Could CIA Sabotage North Korean Arm Shipments to Russia? – Jeff Stein

A Russian BM-21 Grad severely damaged by an internal explosion caused by a defective North Korean shells 

With time running out five months before the election, and facing a polarized Congress dominated by Republicans eager to bring Biden down, the likelihood of the White House proposing any grand covert ops to sabotage the arms shipments at sea or on rail in Russia, via kinetic or cyber ops, is so small as to be nonexistent, my conversants told me. 

“If they did throw around ideas, the first options would be technical—hacking computers, railroad infrastructure, shipping containers, etc.,” retired former CIA operations officer Luis Rueda told me. “These options are more secure, less likely to lead to sources getting wrapped up, [with] more deniability,” he said. If a U.S hand were exposed, he said, the prospect of Russian or North Korean retaliation would be slight, because “they do this shit against us” already.

On the other hand, he added, “We would likely go the easier route of finding that capability from the Ukranians. They could do it, but it opens up a bunch of CI [counterintelligence] problems. The Russians would eventually find out. [But] maybe we could use long range drones, modified Ukrainian drones, to hit the railroad connections [and] blame Ukrainians.” Some reports lay responsibility for the 2022 Nordstream pipeline sabotage on Ukrainian special operators, some blame the U.S., and even Russia itself, but firm proof of who carried out the attack has been elusive.

Others were less impressed with the gravity of the arms deal announced in Pyongyang. One of my interlocutors basically shrugged. For starters, North Korea has already supplied Russia with millions of artillery shells, according to published reports, and they haven’t won the war. Nor does North Korea have microchips or advanced technology to offer Russia. “And any weapons they get are used to kill civilians,” generally speaking, not Ukrainian troops, another top former CIA manager, who this year visited Ukraine to assess progress in the war,  told me. 

Russia’s military industries are running overtime now, anyway, another former intelligence official advised; they don’t really need basic North Korean stuff that much. Putin’s trumped up sojourns to Pyongyang and Vietnam were mostly propaganda stunts. Beyond China, he really doesn’t have any other friends (and Xi Jinping’s love has its limits). 

Then there’s the low quality of North Korean shells. They’re killing the troops. “Russia is using low-quality, often-defective artillery shells from North Korea that can cause problems on the front lines, Ukraine’s army said in a Facebook post” last December, Business Insider reported at the time. “In some cases, the North Korean-supplied shells damage cannon and mortar barrels and even injure Russian soldiers.” 

I heard this from my own sources, who said the U.S. should harp on that: Make sure fresh Russian troops, and their families, know about it. And more, said one. “This [North Korean] stuff is so poor quality that I would target Russian supplies to force them to rely on it as much as possible,” said one. “Alternatively, we can do what we did before and insert sabotaged [North Korean] munitions with the regular stuff to convince the Russians not to trust it. That would happen in Russia or their part of Ukraine. But [North Korean] stuff is so bad I like them relying on it.”

Behind-the-lines heroics, in the other words, are much more likely to show up on Netflix or at your local movie theater. At least from the U.S. side, now and come late January, whatever administration is in power.  The killing hands are hidden.

Comment: This is the second half of Jeff Stein’s “Spy Talk” article from 20 June. He makes a good point. The Biden administration has no stomach for poking the Bear any more than it already has. It’s not going to happen. Will the Ukrainians take it upon themselves to interdict rail lines from North Korea or send long range drones to storage areas? That’s a possibility, but I think more pressing interdiction targets exist closer to the front. The second point is that it doesn’t matter. North Korean ammo is of extremely poor quality with lots of duds, poor tolerances and often dangerous to Russian artillery pieces and troops. Best to let the Russians use it and take their chances.


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24 Responses to Could CIA Sabotage North Korean Arm Shipments to Russia? – Jeff Stein

  1. aleksandar says:

    Artillery shells from North Korea are often defective.
    Source 1 : Ukrainian Army.
    Source 2 : Ukrainian Army via Business Insider.
    If I had presented such “evidences” to my OC chief , I would have been fired on the spot.

    • TTG says:


      You missed all the Russian videos of the defective NK ammo floating around out there.

  2. leith says:

    Leave those defective NoKo shells & rockets alone and let them get through. At least until they stop exploding inside RU gun tubes.

    But IMO the GUR should probably sabotage those shipments of NoKo Hwasong-11 missiles that are being used by Putin against UKR.

    Or better yet sabotage the RU importation import of computer chips and other critical missile guidance components. Ditto for NoKo.

    • Eric Newhill says:

      That and deplete NoKo stockpiles so they have less to use against SoKo should they ever get froggy in that direction.

      The war in Ukraine is going to continue for a long time. So running through NoKo stockpiles is a real possibility.

      • aleksandar says:

        ” running through NoKo stockpiles is a real possibility.”
        NK annual production (152 + 122 ) : 1.2 millions rounds.
        Stock estimated year 2020 : 9 millions.
        Stock estimated year 2024 : 7 millions.

    • James says:


      How would you sabotage the RU importation of computer chips? If you could sabotage them you could just stop them from flowing. These chips are a commodity that are sold all over the world in every street corner PC shop.

      Trying to stop to flow of CPUs is like trying to stop the flow of oil – you can inhibit the flow a little bit but that is all.

  3. d74 says:

    Sabotaging ammunition is an old special operations technique.
    Of course, you have to know how to get between the supplier and the user. Or take control of production or a critical supplier, such as explosives.
    The gains are many: loss of gunners, loss of the weapon, and most importantly, loss of confidence in the weapon. Facing the enemy with a weapon suspected of being more dangerous to you than to the enemy undermines the courage of the best warriors.

    I suspect the Russians know all this and have taken steps such as inspecting the shells and refurbishing only the good ones. The North Koreans may be primitive and underdeveloped (warning: sarcasm). They’ve been working top gear for “70 years” to produce these shells. But they use Soviet equipment with Soviet standards. These methods have proven themselves. What remains is the unknown of storage conditions. Regularly flooded mud huts are contraindicated for metals. Surely the primitive NKs don’t know this!

    This article suggests that underestimating the enemy is the royal road to defeat.

  4. Fred says:

    Whatever will the CIA do if Trump stops giving president for life Zelensky billions of taxpayers money.

    • TTG says:


      Given that Trump will undoubtedly put one of his true believers in charge of the CIA, they might try to off Zelenskiy.

      • P S C says:

        Possibly, but far more likely CIA will liquidate DJT.

        • TTG says:

          P S C,

          I don’t know about that. Trump pledged to immediately put his loyalists in control throughout the government. It’s more likely those trump loyalists will go after Trump’s enemies.

      • Fred says:


        Your TDS is on full display. Zelensky, whose presidential term already expired and who remains in power because of his outlawing all the opponents and declaring an emergency, may die at the hands of his own countrymen. There is zero suggestion from anyone but you that the next administration would do like Kennedy’s and support a coup against him.

        “Trump pledged to immediately put his loyalists in control throughout the government.”

        HOW DARE HE
        HOW DARE HE do just like every other president in history. How did it work out when he didn’t do that last time?

        BTW did you see the latest that the Speaker of the House – Paul Ryan – had a copy of the Steele Dossier the whole time the House Committee investigating the “Russia Collusion” slander that the UK and Hilary cooked up. I sure hope Trump follows Col. Lang’s advice and doesn’t trust any of them.

        • TTG says:


          I just suggested a CIA led by Trump loyalists is more likely to target Zelenskiy than Trump. This was in response to PSC claiming it was “far more likely CIA will liquidate DJT.” This was after you asked what the CIA would do to Trump once he stops US support for Zelenskiy. A CIA led by a Trump loyalist would do nothing to Trump.

    • TTG says:

      Keith Harbaugh,

      Photo evidence shows missile debris from this attack identified as belonging to the Russian 9M330 air defense missile launched by the Tor-M2 platform. The amount of beach casualties seems awfully light for an ATACMS cluster munition strike. And there’s this

      “It would be proper journalism if the @telegraph did some fact checking before publishing Russian headlines as facts.
      Z-military correspondent Roman Saponkov wrote that the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Sevastopol were hitting the airfield, and the ATACMS missile could have been shot down by Russian air defense, because if the ATACMS armored unit had opened normally over the beach, there would have been hundreds of dead there.
      “I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that our air defense missile fell,” Saponkov concluded.
      12 minutes after publication, Saponkov deleted the post.”

      In a related post, Saponikov surmised that an air defense missile intercepted an ATACMS missile over the beach while enroute to a nearby Russian airbase with S-300 and S-400 installations.

      • Keith Harbaugh says:

        Okay, thanks.
        As we all know, people jump to conclusions that fit their world view.
        Thanks for the info!

    • Keith Harbaugh says:

      It’s worth taking a look at how seriously the Russians are taking what happened on that Sevastopol beach:

      “One hundred and fifty-one people applied for medical assistance; 82 persons – 55 adults and 27 children – were hospitalised, many of them in a grave condition.”

      What caused that level of carnage?
      A good question.
      See the statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry cited above for their opinion.

    • Keith Harbaugh says:

      The Russian representative to the United Nations gives a 17 minute explanation of Russia’s position here:

      Actually, his statement runs about 7 minutes, then he takes questions.

      None of what he says is very surprising, but it is perhaps useful to hear the Russian position spoken directly by a Russian diplomat, not filtered by a journalist.

  5. leith says:

    Putin’s GRU saboteurs have been busy in Europe trying to hinder Ukrainian arms deliveries.

    As my great-uncle Clarence used to say: “What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander”. So a large bavovna or two of NoKo ballistic missile shipments might be a fair exchange.

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