Is North Korea testing chemical and biological weapons on humans? The answer almost certainly is yes. Is it experimenting on children and the mentally handicapped? Probably so.
After decades of development, Pyongyang has stockpiled 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons — mainly mustard gas, sarin, phosgene, and hydrogen cyanide — and is capable of rapid production in time of war. The arsenal, one of the world’s largest, can be fired into South Korea either by artillery shell or with missiles.
When he was director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte cited the North’s chemical weapons as among the “greatest threats” to the United States. The North is believed to operate 12 facilities producing chemicals for war use.
North Korea has also weaponized anthrax, smallpox, pneumonic plague, cholera, and botulism and may have as many as 5,000 tons of biological agents. Kim Jong Il’s militant state is thought to have at least 20 plants involved in developing and producing these weapons. The North’s program started in the 1960s, and it has a high call on the nation’s meager resources.
So far, there has been no documented use of North Korea’s chemical or biological agents on foreigners, but that does not mean there have been no victims. Some, such as national security analyst John Loftus, think the high toll — perhaps 3,000 killed or injured — resulting from the train blast in Ryongchon, a town close to the China border, in April 2004 was the result of the release of chemical or biological agents being transported to Syria. That charge has never been proven..
More certain, however, are the accusations that North Korea has tested chemical and biological agents on its own people. “An officer ordered me to select 50 healthy female prisoners. One of the guards handed me a basket full of soaked cabbage, told me not to eat it but to give it to the fifty women,” said Sun Ok Lee, a former prisoner, in the middle of this decade. “All who ate the cabbage leaves started violently vomiting blood and screaming with pain. It was hell. In less than 20 minutes they were quite dead.”
None of the allegations, including Lee’s, can be substantiated. All of them come from refugees and defectors, who have a general motive to make their stories appear of great value to South Korean and Western intelligence agencies. As a result of the incentive to fabricate, some of what we hear from those fleeing Kim’s state is almost certainly untrue.
For example, Pyongyang — and some of its harshest critics — allege that the BBC 2004 program Access to Evil, which reported that chemical weapons were used on political prisoners, relied on faked North Korean documents. The documents — orders to transfer prisoners for the purpose of experimentation — could be forgeries because they carry seals that do not look genuine.