North Korea has increased nuclear production at secret sites, say officials

WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months — and that Kim Jong Un may try to hide those facilities as he seeks more concessions in nuclear talks with the Trump administration, U.S. officials told NBC News.

The intelligence assessment, which has not previously been reported, seems to counter the sentiments expressed by President Donald Trump, who tweeted after his historic June 12 summit with Kim that "there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."

Analysts at the CIA and other intelligence agencies don't see it that way, according to more than a dozen American officials who are familiar with their assessments and spoke on the condition of anonymity. They see a regime positioning itself to extract every concession it can from the Trump administration — while clinging to nuclear weapons it believes are essential to survival.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In recent months, even as the two sides engaged in diplomacy, North Korea was stepping up its production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, five U.S. officials say, citing the latest intelligence assessment. North Korea and the U.S. agreed at the summit to "work toward" denuclearization, but there is no specific deal. On Trump's order, the U.S. military canceled training exercises on the Korean peninsula, a major concession to Kim.

While the North Koreans have stopped missile and nuclear tests, "there's no evidence that they are decreasing stockpiles, or that they have stopped their production," said one U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence. "There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S." Four other officials familiar with the intelligence assessment also said North Korea intended to deceive the U.S.

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Yongbyon Nuclear Complex in North Korea
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Yongbyon Nuclear Complex in North Korea
YONGBYON, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 29, 2013: This is a satellite image of the 5 MWe Reactor at Yongbyon Nuclear Complex in North Korea collected on March 29, 2013. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 25, 2018: Figure 11. Groups of personnel observed throughout the complex. Mandatory credit for all images: DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - MAY 24, 2015: Figure 5. A facility near Tohwa-ri. This DigitalGlobe image is from the Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory complex and was featured in the article, Suspicious Activity at Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory; Progress Towards Completing the Experimental Light Water Reactor, published on 38 North on April 4, 2016. Photo date: May 24, 2015 Mandatory credit: Image � 2016 DigitalGlobe/38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JAN 14, 2011: Figure 6A. Construction of administration buildings from 2011-2015. This DigitalGlobe image is from the Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory complex and was featured in the article, Suspicious Activity at Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory; Progress Towards Completing the Experimental Light Water Reactor, published on 38 North on April 4, 2016. Photo date: January 14, 2011. Mandatory credit: Image � 2016 DigitalGlobe/38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 27, 2016: Figure 6A. Centrifuge Building and support buildings at the Uranium Enrichment Complex appear to be in operation. Date: October 27, 2016. Mandatory credit for all images: DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JAN 14, 2011: Figure 7A. Construction of livestock halls from 2011-2015. This DigitalGlobe image is from the Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory complex and was featured in the article, Suspicious Activity at Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory; Progress Towards Completing the Experimental Light Water Reactor, published on 38 North on April 4, 2016. Photo date: January 14, 2011. Mandatory credit: Image � 2016 DigitalGlobe/38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - MAY 24, 2015: Figure 7B. Construction of livestock halls from 2011-2015. This DigitalGlobe image is from the Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory complex and was featured in the article, Suspicious Activity at Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory; Progress Towards Completing the Experimental Light Water Reactor, published on 38 North on April 4, 2016. Photo date: May 24, 2015. Mandatory credit: Image � 2016 DigitalGlobe/38 North.
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - DECEMBER 2, 2013: ISIS analysis Digital Globe imagery showing continued construction work at a site located between the fuel fabrication complex and the Radiochemical Laboratory, or plutonium separation plant at North Koreas Yongbyon site on December 2, 2013. (Photo DigitalGlobe/ISIS via Getty Images).
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - MAY 24, 2015: Figure 7. Administration buildings. This DigitalGlobe image is from the Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory complex and was featured in the article, Suspicious Activity at Yongbyon Radiochemical Laboratory; Progress Towards Completing the Experimental Light Water Reactor, published on 38 North on April 4, 2016. Photo date: May 24, 2015. Mandatory credit: Image � 2016 DigitalGlobe/38 North.
YONGBYON, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 27, 2013: This is a satellite image of the 5 MWe Reactor at Yongbyon Nuclear Complex in North Korea collected on March 27, 2013. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON, NORTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 13, 2012: This is a satellite image of the 5 MWe Reactor at Yongbyon Nuclear Complex in North Korea collected on November 13, 2012. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON, NORTH KOREA - MARCH 27, 2013: This is a satellite image of the 5 MWe Reactor at Yongbyon Nuclear Complex in North Korea collected on March 27, 2013. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON, NORTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 7, 2013: This is a satellite image of the 5 MWe Reactor at Yongbyon Nuclear Complex in North Korea collected on February 7, 2013. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38North via Getty Images)
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U.S. intelligence agencies have stepped up their collection against North Korea in recent years, and it appears to be paying off with greater insights into a country that has long been the world's hardest spying target, officials say. NBC News agreed to withhold some details of the latest intelligence assessment that officials said could put sources at risk.

"There are lots of things that we know that North Korea has tried to hide from us for a long time," a U.S. intelligence official said.

It's long been understood that North Korea had at least one undeclared facility to enrich nuclear fuel, aside from Yongbyon, its main nuclear site.

"When North Korea constructed the enrichment facility at Yongbyon in 2009, the North Koreans did so at a pace that suggested this was not their first rodeo, i.e. not the first time they had assembled large cascades of centrifuges," said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

Joel Wit, who negotiated a 1994 nuclear agreement with North Korea, said the U.S. always believed North Korea had two facilities to enrich nuclear material: Yongbyon and a second site the U.S. is aware of but whose name has not been disclosed.

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Scenes from Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's summit in Singapore
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Scenes from Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's summit in Singapore
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump (R) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump walks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un visits The Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
U.S. President Donald Trump flanked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly attend a lunch with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and officials at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
US President Donald Trump (R) gestures as he meets with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Retired American professional basketball player Dennis Rodman speaks to the press as he arrives at Changi International airport ahead of US-North Korea summit in Singapore on June 11, 2018. - North Korea's Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump meet on June 12 for an unprecedented summit in an attempt to address the last festering legacy of the Cold War, with the US President calling it a 'one time shot' at peace. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEK BERRY/AFP/Getty Images)
The motorcade of U.S. President Donald Trump travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan takes a selfie with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a visit in Merlion Park in Singapore, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 11, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump (L) meets with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (R) to attend a bilateral meeting at the Istana, Singapore on June 11, 2018. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Republic of Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, center, tours the Esplanade in Singapore on Monday, June 11, 2018. Kim smiled and waved to a cheering crowd during a surprise late-night tour of Singapore on the eve of his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong walk together during a meeting at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, center, tours the Esplanade in Singapore on Monday, June 11, 2018. Kim smiled and waved to a cheering crowd during a surprise late-night tour of Singapore on the eve of his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump is pictured during a meeting at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) poses with US President Donald Trump (R) after taking part in a signing ceremony at the end of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump holds up a document signed by him and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - 2018/06/11: President Trump leaves the Sinagpore Istana after meeting with with Singaporean PM Lee Heisn Loong ahead of Trump-Kim Summit. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore as both leaders arrived in the Southeast Asian city-state on Sunday ahead of the landmark summit. (Photo by Sion Ang/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump (R) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un (3rd from left) leaves the Singapore's Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands on night before summit on June 11, 2018 in Singapore. (Photo by Chris Jung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (R) walks with US President Donald Trump (L) during a break in talks at their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un became on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) walks along the Jubilee bridge during a tour of some of the sights on June 11, 2018 in Singapore. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled in Singapore for June 12 as a small circle of experts have already been involved in talks towards the landmark summit in the city-state. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing live footage of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, at a railway station in Seoul on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo answers questions at a press briefing June 11, 2018 in Singapore. Pompeo answered a range of questions related primarily to the historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scheduled for tomorrow June 12 in Singapore. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: National Security Council press spokesman Robert Palladino (4th R) answers questions from reporters at the White House press filing center June 11, 2018 in Singapore. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore as both leaders arrived in the Southeast Asian city-state on Sunday ahead of the landmark summit. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump (L6) participates in a working luncheon hosted by Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana, Singapore on June 11, 2018. Officials from both delegations also attended the luncheon. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Republic of Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE - JUNE 11: In this handout provided by the Ministry of Communications and Information of Singapore, U.S. President Donald Trump (R) with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (L) on June 11, 2018 in Singapore, Singapore. The historic meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been scheduled in Singapore for June 12 as the world awaits for the landmark summit in the Southeast Asian city-state. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information Singapore/via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) as they sit down for their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. - Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have become on June 12 the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet, shake hands and negotiate to end a decades-old nuclear stand-off. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed police officers patrol outside JW Marriot South Beach Hotel, a Marriott Group property, in Singapore, on Monday, June 11, 2018. Trump�met Prime Minister�Lee�Hsien Loong�at the city-state's presidential palace for more than two hours Monday for discussions that were expected to include everything from summit preparations to the U.S.'s tariff threats. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bodyguards of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un arrive at The Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Police officers walk around the perimeter of the Capella Hotel on Singapore's resort island of Sentosa, June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
The motorcade transporting U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
U.S. President Donald Trump and his delegation have lunch with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and officials at the Istana in Singapore June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
The motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Official cameramen follow the motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
The motorcade of U.S. President Donald Trump travels towards Sentosa for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Police stand guard outside the Capella Hotel in Singapore, on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. President�Donald Trump�plans to shake hands and have lunch with North Korean leader�Kim Jong Un, kicking off a historic summit on Tuesday between two adversaries that only last year had seemed at the brink of nuclear war. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People watch a television screen showing live footage of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, at a railway station in Seoul on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing live footage of the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, at a railway station in Seoul on June 12, 2018. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump (L) leaves after his meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (not seen) as part of the US-North Korea summit in Sentosa island, on June 12, 2018 at Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - 'MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION, REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) U.S. President Donald Trump waves his hand as he leaves after his meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (not seen) as part of the US-North Korea summit in Sentosa island, on June 12, 2018 at Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore. (Photo by Ministry of Communications and Information, Singapore / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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"People have been open to the possibility there might be more," he said.

The latest U.S. intelligence assessment concludes that there is more than one secret site, officials tell NBC News. The question is whether Kim will be willing to admit it.

"This is why people want North Korea to declare all its facilities up front," said Wit, a former Clinton administration official and senior fellow at the Stimson Center who founded a web site devoted to North Korea, 38north.com.

The intelligence assessment comes on the heels of a report by 38north.com showing that North Korea was continuing to make improvements at its major disclosed nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

"The observed activity appears inconsistent with a North Korean intent to abandon its nuclear weapons programs," said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst and North Korea expert at the Heritage Foundation. "There seems little reason to continue expansion plans if the regime intended to dismantle them as would be required under a denuclearization agreement."

One senior U.S. intelligence official offered a different view, noting that the decision by Kim to suspend nuclear and missile tests was unexpected, and the fact that the two sides are talking is a positive step.

But that official also acknowledged that intelligence analysts expect the Kim regime to try to deceive the United States.

"Work is ongoing to deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles," he said. "We are watching closely."

 

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