While North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are no secret, the rogue regime keeps its other weapons of mass destruction interests hidden, denying any active chemical or biological weapons programs.
The North has built factories and acquired machines capable of producing biological weapons in bulk, the Washington Post reported Monday, but Pyongyang has yet to order the producing of such weapons. North Korea has also experimented with various pathogens, such as anthrax and smallpox.
“That the North Koreans have [biological] agents is known, by various means,” a senior U.S. official familiar with military preparations for a biological attack, told The Post, further commenting, “The lingering question is, why have they acquired the materials and developed the science, but not yet produced weapons?”
The official acknowledged that there are numerous intelligence gaps, and that it’s very likely the North could produce biological weapons without the U.S. knowing. “If it started tomorrow we might not know it,” the official explained, “unless we’re lucky enough to have an informant who happens to be in just the right place.”
The state of North Korea’s biological weapons program is debated, with some arguing that North Korea is already producing weapons and others asserting that the regime has yet to begin production.
North Korea may have started developing the ability to produce biological weapons in the 1960s under the leadership of Kim Il Sung, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative. “North Korea likely has the capability to produce a variety of biological weapons including anthrax, smallpox, pest, francisella tularensis, and hemorrhagic fever virus,” the South Korean Ministry of Defense concluded in a 2012 Defense White Paper.
“North Korea can weaponize its biological weapons within ten days,” the South Korean defense ministry said in 2015, MBN News reported at the time. The North is believed to be ready to weaponize at least thirteen different biological agents, a report from the Belfer Center introduced.
A few years ago, North Korea revealed images of equipment capable of producing biological weapons in large quantities. While North Korea claimed it was for agricultural purposes, expert observers noted that the machines could potentially be used to produce weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs are often front and center in news on the rogue regime, as Pyongyang is outspoken about its ambitions. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un declared the completion of North Korea’s nuclear program after a test of a new intercontinental ballistic missile late last month that can theoretically strike anywhere in the continental U.S. In September, the North tested a suspected staged thermonuclear bomb.
The reclusive regime is particularly secretive about its chemical and biological weapons programs.
“They talk openly about their ‘nuclear deterrent,’ but with chemical and biological weapons, it’s different,” Joseph DeTrani, a retired CIA intelligence officer with experience watching North Korea, told The Post. “They’ve always played it close to the vest. It’s a real option. But they want to preserve the possibility of deniability.”
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