The New York Times recently ran an article claiming this is a failure of western intelligence services:
For South Korean and American intelligence services to have failed to pick up any clues to this momentous development — panicked phone calls between government officials, say, or soldiers massing around Mr. Kim’s train — attests to the secretive nature of North Korea, a country not only at odds with most of the world but also sealed off from it in a way that defies spies or satellites.
My question to the New York Times and everyone else is how do you know we didn't know about it? IF our intelligence agencies had picked up the information and then broadcast this news to the world do you think this would have been a good use of that intelligence gathering method? News and information coming out of North Korea is challenging at best so IF our spooks had a channel to this sort of high level information why should we let the North Koreans know we have the information ourselves?
During the Clinton administration it was leaked that our CIA was spying on the Japanese during trade negotiations. Talk about short sighted. If you are successfully gathering information why go public with your success? From the LA Times:
Among the successes, sources say, is strong intelligence information the CIA provided on the Japanese during this spring's heated auto trade negotiations between the Clinton Administration and Japan. "We've done really well with the Japanese," one source said.Now of course it is entirely possible our spooks did not find out about Kim Jong Il's death until the public release. I hope not but it is entirely possible. If so there is hope on the horizon. In 2008 Orascom was granted a monopoly license to provide cell phone service in North Korea.
Orascom Telecom Holding was awarded a Greenfield license to establish and operate a WCDMA (3G) network in DPRK in January 2008. koryolink was launched in December 15th 2008 as a joint venture between OTH (75%) and Korea Posts and Telecomm Corp. (KPTC) (25%). koryolink has deployed its 3G network to initially cover the capital Pyongyang - which has a population of more than 2 million - with an ambitious plan, already under implementation, to extend coverage to the entire country. OTH has over 431 thousand subscribers and 100% market share as of December 2010.All it would take is a few well placed bits of hardware and software installed onto that network to provide a flood of data for our intelligence services to chew through. Furthermore cell phone transmissions can be remotely detected and analyzed if a physical connection to the network cannot be obtained. As the North Koreans discover the convenience of cell phones the challenges of intelligence gathering will lessen.