Kim Jong Il’s Death Takes CIA By Surprise

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Kim Jong Il's death exposed — once again — the alarming deficiencies of the spider web of U.S. intelligence agencies. We should know from 9/11 that what we don't know can kill us.

'What use are they?" Richard Nixon once asked regarding the Central Intelligence Agency, as recounted in Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tim Weiner's history of the CIA, "Legacy of Ashes." "They've got 40,000 people over there reading newspapers."

Similarly, that hawk of hawks, onetime Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, liked to remind right-wing admirers of the CIA it was really "the military arm of the State Department," whose feckless diplomats routinely appease U.S. enemies.

The death last week of perhaps the world's most oppressive dictator, North Korea's Kim Jong Il, is yet another big event that sideswiped America's many-tentacled espionage apparatus: The U.S. government apparently found out through North Korean state media.

During the Bush administration, we knew nothing about North Korea building a nuclear reactor within the Mideast terror state of Syria, in spite of North Korean government officials visiting the site regularly.

Until, that is, as the New York Times noted this week..

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