Amid N. Korean Threats, CIA No Longer Reports to Congress on Missile Proliferation

By Patrick Goodenough | April 5, 2013 | 4:37 AM EDT

Since the late 1990s the CIA’s unclassified report to Congress has recorded developments in WMD and missile proliferation around the world, with North Korea featuring prominently. (Image: CIA)

( – North Korean missile threats against the United States and its allies are simmering at a time when a legislative requirement for a recurring CIA report on the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology has been repealed.

Since the late 1990s the “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions” has recorded developments in the areas of WMD and missile procurement and development around the world. North Korea and Iran have both featured prominently.

The documents – sometimes dubbed “721 reports” since they are a requirement of Section 721 of the 1997 Intelligence Authorization Act –also have tracked the longstanding collaboration between North Korea and Iran in developing ballistic missile technology.

That collaboration may be of particular significance right now:  South Korean military officials believe that an intermediate-range missile which the North reportedly has moved into position on its east coast in possible preparation for a launch is a North Korean-developed Musudan, which some experts suspect is a variant of Iran’s Shahab missile.

North Korea is not known to have flight-tested the Musudan, whose existence first became known in the West when it appeared in a military parade in Pyongyang in October 2010.

North Korea and Iran both have made advances in the ballistic missile field over the past decade, and the CIA and other experts believe the collaboration runs both ways; experts from each country have been observed monitoring launches by the other.

A ballistic missile, believed to be the Musudan, is seen during an Oct. 10, 2010 parade in Pyongyang marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party. Experts noted strong similarities to an Iranian missile. (AP Photo, File)

The Musudan’s predicted range varies from 2,500-4,000 kilometers (1,553-2485 miles), depending on size of payload. That would bring South Korea, all of Japan, and the U.S. territory of Guam within potential range.

As long ago as 2002, the CIA’s 721 report noted North Korea’s “willingness to sell complete [ballistic missile] systems and components that have enabled other states to acquire longer range capabilities earlier than would otherwise have been possible and to acquire the basis for domestic development efforts.”

By 2006, the 721 report said Iran and Syria remained the countries of principal concern as beneficiaries of North Korean missile technology.

“North Korea is among the world’s leading suppliers of ballistic missiles and related technologies,” noted the 721 report in 2009, adding that some countries – notably Iran and Pakistan – were both beneficiaries and agents of missile and WMD proliferation. Having themselves received help, they were now “capable of supplying technology and expertise.”

The most recent 721 report, released early last year and covering 2011, stated, “North Korea remains committed to selling missiles and related technologies to foreign customers” and observed in that context that its relationship with Iran remains “strong.”

Now, however, these regular CIA assessments will no longer be available to Congress or the wider public.

The Intelligence Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013, passed by the House and Senate in the closing days 2012 and signed into law by President Obama on January 14, removed the reporting requirement.

‘A terrible decision’

When the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) submitted to Congress its proposal for the FY2013 legislation administration, it included a justification for the repeal of the reporting requirement.

“This reporting requirement should be repealed because it is 15 years old and the Intelligence Community routinely provides finished intelligence products, regular Congressional Notifications, and briefings on this topic. This approach ensures that significant developments are brought to the timely attention of Congress, rather than waiting for an annual report,” it said. “Furthermore, this topic is addressed in the Annual Threat Assessment hearing.”

Writing on his Arms Control Wonk blog on Tuesday, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., called the repeal “a terrible decision,” and picked apart the DNI justification.

To the arguments that the requirement is 15 years old, Lewis wrote that “one of the real advantages of the 721 report is that one can compare past reports for shifts in language.”

Responding to the point that the intelligence agencies routinely provide products and briefings on the subject, Lewis said provision of an unclassified report allows “an open debate,” noting that the public does not have access to those products and briefings.

And to the argument about the topic being covered in the annual report on threats facing the United States, Lewis pointed out that this year’s report, delivered by DNI James Clapper last month, contained “about two pages” on WMD threats.

“The bottom line is that the 721 report has been one of the best products that the intelligence community produces for outside analysts, who have been able to use it keep abreast of any number of proliferation-related issues,” Lewis concluded. “I will miss it.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow