Donald Trump’s neocon cabal of National Security Adviser General H. R. McMaster and his assistants Dina Powell and Fiona Hill, the latter in charge of the National Security Council’s Russia desk, are poor choices to gauge subtle messages coming out of North Korea. McMaster, a student of professional Army pencil sharpener David Petraeus, fails to grasp that there are many more methods to ascertain the policies of a secretive country like North Korea. Beyond technical products, such as imagery and signals intelligence, and neocon drivel from such outfits as the Brookings Institution, Council on Foreign Relations, and the Heritage Foundation, there are ground reports from various defense attachés posted at embassies in Pyongyang and psychological analysis of the North Korean leader.
During the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency, State Department, and other federal elements employed “Kremlinologists,” who carefully poured over photographs of the Soviet leadership standing atop Lenin’s Mausoleum on Red Square. Emphasis was placed on the physical appearances of the Soviet leaders, where they stood on the reviewing stand in relation to the General Secretary of the Communist Party, and whether they were even present at the November 7 parade marking the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the annual May Day parade marking international Communist solidarity. From the photographic data, coupled with human intelligence from Western defense attachés in Moscow, who also attended the parades, intelligence analysts could figure out who was “in” and who was “out,” or heading “out,” within the Soviet leadership.
The same analysis was applied by the CIA to photographs and intelligence reports from similar military parades marking Communist “red letter dates” on other countries, including the October 1 founding of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing, and other celebrations in Pyongyang, Ulan Bator, Mongolia; Hanoi, North Vietnam; Tirana, Albania; and other Communist capitals.
Today, North Korea remains the only country in the world where such analysis of photographs and videos is pertinent, as every nation in the world, including those still purporting to be Communist, are relatively open in comparison with North Korea. However, there does not appear the same level of interest by the CIA and other intelligence agencies in the photographic interpretation or human intelligence-gathering from Pyongyang-based diplomats as was once the case when the CIA’s Medical and Psychological Analysis Center (MPAC) specialized in such matters. Instead, so-called “intelligence” experts are paraded out by the Trump administration engaged in “chest-thumping” about what they had in store for Kim Jong Un. It is truly amateur hour these days at the White House and the CIA, now under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Christian “creationist,” who believes the Earth is only 6000 years old.
The fact that Kim Jong Un ditched the signature Communist tunic, along with the Korean Worker’s Party lapel pin, at this year’s parade marking the anniversary of the birthday of the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, would have, in years past, resulted in attention by the “Kremlinologists” specializing in Korea. The major change on display in Pyongyang was, understandably, totally unnoticed by the makeup-laden idiots masquerading as journalists on cable network news. But it also appears to have been lost on Trump’s national security team who seem to revel in “wargasms” stemming from Tomahawk and Mother of All Bomb (MOAB) attacks on Syria and Afghanistan, respectively.
If the CIA and NSC were doing their jobs, which they are not, they would have focused on Kim’s choice of wearing a black suit, along with a white shirt and white tie, at the Pyongyang military parade. It was a signal that he, a civilian, exercises control over North Korea’s notoriously paranoid and rigid military. The North Korean military high command has enjoyed privileges not even extended to civilian government officials. There is a reason why most of the North Korean defectors originate from the civil government: the military brass have it reasonably well-off in North Korea. Therefore, in order to send a subliminal message to Pyongyang-watchers around the world. Kim ditched the green military outfit and the Communist period “Mao jacket” for a Western business suit. Kim’s white shirt with the white tie are also significant. In North Korea, the color white symbolizes purity, strength, and dignity. In other words, Kim was sending a message that he is willing to open up to Western ways, while preserving North Korea’s unique system and philosophy of self-reliance (Juche).
There is precedent for Communist leaders undergoing apparel changes to send non-verbal messages. In 1998, Cuban President Fidel Castro shocked the leaders in attendance at the Ibero-American Summit meeting in Oporto, Portugal by ditching his trademark olive military fatigues for a very fashionable blue double-breasted suit. Castro was sending a message that Cuba was willing to change, but on its own terms, not those dictated by Washington. In essence, Kim is sending the same subtle message to the West. However, the Trump team, while free to reject the overture from the North Korean leader, does not appear to have even received it.
North Korea is the world’s last doctrinaire Communist state. Modern intelligence technology is insufficient in analyzing North Korean intentions. Good old-fashioned “Kremlinology,” which was more of an art than a science, is what is needed today in dealing with the third generation of Kim family leadership. And the Trump crowd is missing the boat completely.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).