Intel officials worry that Iran could outsource nuke program to North Korea

A disturbing report in the Washington Times underscores one of the great fears of the US intelligence community; that Iran could team up with North Korea to enrich uranium in secret and even build a bomb of their own.

We know that back in the 1990's, North Korea sold Iran some hardware to help start their enrichment program, so there is some kind of relationship there that exists below the surface. Could that relationship be extended to include cooperation in building a nuclear weapon?

CIA Director John Brennan acknowledged Tuesday his agency is monitoring whether Iran may try to assist its clandestine nuclear program with help from another rogue state such as North Korea, or by colluding with Pyongyang toward the secret purchase and transfer of nuclear weapons for Tehran.

“We have to make sure that we’re doing whatever we can to uncover anything,” Mr. Brennan told a group of reporters in Austin, Texas. “I’m not saying that something is afoot at all — what I’m saying is that we need to be attuned to all of the potential pathways to acquiring different types of [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities.”

Experts say the deal worked out by Secretary of State John F. Kerry carries no known prohibition against North Korea performing Iran’s nuclear arms research, paid out of the $100 billion to $150 billion the deal frees up in Iranian assets.

“Kerry and crew left a loophole a mile wide when they effectively allowedIran to conduct all the illicit work it wants outside of Iran, in countries likeNorth Korea or perhaps Sudan,” Michael Rubin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Washington Times.

While there is heated debate over the extent of collusion between Iranand North Korea, evidence of collaboration has piled up for years in public source information even as the Obama administration and the U.S. intelligence community remain mum about such reports.

Larry Niksch, a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has been tracking the Iran-North Korea nexus for decades.

“There appears to be little in the Iran nuclear agreement that would prevent Iran from continuing or increasing its personnel and financial investments in North Korea’s future missile and nuclear warhead programs,” Mr. Niksch told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee in July. “It seems to me that North Korea may receive from Iran upwards of $2 [billion] to $3 billion annually from Iran for the various forms of collaboration between them.”

The cash freed up when sanctions are lifted could very well buy Tehran North Korean cooperation in building a nuke. And it wouldn't even violate the agreement Iran signed with Washington. So the question left unanswered by Director Brennan is, can we catch them if they make the attempt?

What are the technical capabilities of our monitoring devices? Some have speculated that we can detect a nuclear source from space, although no one knows for sure. The best intelligence in this, as in most cases, is human intelligence, or HUMINT. From all indications, we are sorely lacking in HUMINT assets in Iran, so, in effect, we are blind to their intentions. 

If Brennan is worried, we should be as well. It would be a truly nightmare alliance if two rogue regimes joined together in a nuclear pact, giving policy makers headaches and raising the threat level considerably.

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