Since more posts on North Korea will follow, it’s best to clear the air. The vociferous tone of the past two posts,
and the Donald Duck cartoons have nothing to do with criticism of Administration policy, but may have been misinterpreted by some. The ultimately correct course of action is a complex matrix of benefit and risk to U.S. security, heavily reliant on clandestine methods, and the realities and limitations of power projection. It is partly embedded in the international ecosystem. It cannot be discerned from open sources. Too often, politics is made of what is known to decision makers, but cannot be revealed. The Missile Gap, invented by JFK for his political benefit, is the classic.
So although my assessment is similar to what is publicly known of the CIA assessments, I refrain from having an opinion about North Korea. Dirty Harry said it best. But the astute open source observer can still call bullshit when it’s obvious.
Even when operating in non interpretive mode, good journalism has a story. Quoting the American Press Institute,
I differ a trifle with the Institute, preferring to substitute or add the word “relevant”. Make important news interesting and relevant.
Had the article authors looked back at their own previous articles, as cited in N. Koreans Giving Up Test Site — Baloney!, they would have seen the implication: Rather than the joyous note of a new leaf for North Korea, the gesture of closing the test site is not motivated by goodwill. It’s a geological necessity dressed up as a gesture.
Can disposal of a worthless test site also be a gesture of good will? By failing to include all the relevant aspects of the story, the articles were actually free publicity for Kim Jong-un. North Korea has no friends in the Western press, but omissions of relevant parts of the story can result in a powerful bias, even if totally unintentional.
Although castigating the press is an occasional sport, this blog is about open source intelligence — not just the results, but how to get it. In some articles, the focus on methods is explicit. In this series, it’s been example. The note of technique is that while modern media is all too focused on the immediate here-and-now, much can be gleaned simply by scanning back the past few months.
In pursuit of open source, it’s helpful to have broad enough interests to remember what at the time may have seemed divorced from geopolitics. When North Korea’s test site was discovered to have become unstable, it seemed an irrelevant geological curiosity. Politicians are not typically interested in geology, unless related to oil. Yet it became the centerpiece of a bogus negotiating offer by an adversary.
So if nobody’s got any objections, we’ll continue shortly. You got a problem? Make my day.