Did Jim Kelly cook the books? On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly told a Senate Committee that "The enriched uranium issue, which some have assumed is somewhere off in the fog of the distant future, is not ... It is only probably a matter of months, not years, behind the plutonium [program]."
You can find the quote here in this article on the CNN website. (Reader beware: Seemingly because of sloppiness, the CNN article contains at least one significant factual error. So don't put a lot of weight in it beside the quotation.)
In any case, is North Korea's uranium program really that far along? It would make the administration look better if it were. But is it?
Don't be so sure.
In his statement, Kelly implied that unnamed others had some misunderstanding about what stage the uranium program was at. But that's misleading because the US intelligence community was the source of what Kelly now calls a misunderstanding.
Indeed, Jim Kelly was one of the sources of this 'misunderstanding'.
(Parenthetically, let's note that, on balance, Jim Kelly is one of the good guys in this whole Korea debacle, though he did once accuse the proprietor of TPM of being a practitioner of "hack journalism" because of an article which caused Kelly some difficulty.)
This change of story caught my eye. So I called up a few of the most wired Korea watchers in town to see what they'd heard. None of them knew what Kelly was talking about.
Now, let's be clear. The current Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia is going to have more immediate access to the latest intelligence data than almost anyone outside of government. Maybe some new information has come to light.
But this administration has already shown a distressing propensity to send the intell types back to the well again and again until they come up with intelligence that helps the administration's favored policy.
I'm going to do more digging on this. But we need to know more of what was behind Kelly's comment. He provided no reason for changing the time frame from that which administration officials had previously noted. So it looks a lot like he was massaging the data in order to retrospectively justify the administration's bobbling of the issue six months ago.