NORTH KOREA: Pesticide Plant or Weapons Warehouse?

RYAN LIPPERT WRITES – Last month, a “biological weapons expert” known only as Lee allegedly defected from his native North Korea to Finland. Yonhap News states that he “held a data storage device with 15 gigabytes of information on human experiments” which may prove the existence of North Korea’s alleged human experimentation programs. However, nobody knows for sure whether Lee actually defected or not. When asked about the situation, some Finnish government agencies said they knew nothing about it, while another agency said that they can’t comment on specific cases. Whether this defection is real or not, it wasn’t the only bit of biological warfare-related news to come out of the secretive country on that day.

The day Lee defected, North Korea’s state-run media published pictures of Kim Jong-un visiting the newly constructed Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute, a facility reportedly built to make “bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacteria commonly used for pesticides.” This all sounds like a perfectly benign program, but a biological warfare expert’s assessment of the facility serves as a reminder that things are not always what they seem.

In her report on the facility, Melissa Hanham notes that Bt is “a close cousin of anthrax – it’s produced the exact same way.” She also mentions “North Korea’s known history of interest in biological weapons.” VICE notes that two other sources agree that it is possible that the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute could be used to produce anthrax. The fact that Korean People’s Army Unit 810 is in charge of the facility certainly doesn’t alleviate these concerns either. Nor do reports by past defectors who claim to have seen the Hermit Kingdom’s government perform experiments with biological and chemical weapons “on disabled children and adults.” North Korea’s state-run media has asserted that the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute is not meant to produce biological weapons. They have allegedly told the United States government that they may come see for themselves if they wish.

Right now, whether the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute is actually designed to produce biological weapons is anyone’s guess. It may be possible, but more proof is needed. As with almost any development in North Korea, it is very difficult to separate fact from fiction due to the country’s secretive nature.

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