Czech counter-intelligence thwarts North Korean attempts to buy specialized technology

Over the weekend, BIS, the Czech intelligence agency, made a surprising announcement: North Korean agents have made three known attempts to purchase component parts for their nuclear program from Czech sources within the past year.

Such successes are not always reported, but BIS has revealed that during 2005 it detected and stopped three attempts by North Korean agents to purchase special equipment intended to enhance North Korea's nuclear arms program. In each case, employees of North Korean companies visiting the Czech Republic expressed interest in specialized dual-use machines and their spare parts.

Experts say that North Korea desires the special equipment for production of both conventional and nuclear weapons, as well as their launchers. The technology in question would enable North Korea to produce a much smaller nuclear weapon than its current technology allows. The compatible launchers could then send the smaller nuclear warheads much farther abroad.

BIS spokesman Jan Subrt says that in 2005 the Czech secret service managed to stop three export deals destined for North Korea. When the first attempt to buy and export the equipment failed, North Korea reportedly tried to make the purchase via a third, unnamed country. According to the counter-intelligence agency, North Korea has shown a consistent interest in the Czech Republic as a source country for the equipment.

Despite protests over a series of missile tests it conducted in July, North Korea conducted an underground test of a nuclear weapon on October 9. The move led to a United Nations Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea, and strict inspection of cargo headed into and out of the country. The technology at the centre of the latest revelations has been on the Czech Republic's export-ban list since 2003.