Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.


The death of North Korean President Kim Jong-il raises numerous questions about the future in the Far East and a possible succession struggle between his son and the military. Anxiety is heightened especially given the fact that North Korea already possesses nuclear weapons with unknown quality, quantity, and delivery capability.  The implications of his death for regional and global stability are indeed of great concern, but the intelligence gap that has been exposed may be even more disturbing for the United States and the West.

Media reports suggested that there may have a 51 hour news gap from the time of Kim’s death until it became known in the West.  It has been argued that North Korea is a totally closed society so that U.S. intelligence, both electronic and human spying have been virtually unable to penetrate this regime. Fifty-one hours, however, is a lifetime in the hi-tech age.

If this is the case in North Korea, one wonders where else are the U.S. and the West also operating in the dark. As the New York Times observed, in the summer of 2007 it took Israeli intelligence to inform the U.S. about North Korean assistance in the construction of a plutonium nuclear reactor in Syria (which the Israelis subsequently destroyed on September 6, 2007.) Despite brilliant scientific minds and cyber-engineers, the U.S. has suffered for years from inadequate “on the ground” intelligence in certain parts of the world. We are able to buy operatives but at what level of reliability?  Those who need to know understand, why this fact alone makes the U.S.-Israel relationship so vital and mutually beneficial in the Middle East.

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