North Korea Chemical and Biological Weapon Milestones – 1969-2005

1961: Dr. Yi Sung-ki oversees construction of the February 8 Vinalon Factory in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province. Dr. Yi also assumes the position of director of the Chemistry Institute at the Academy of Science’s Hamhung Branch. He is later referred to by Japanese and South Korean sources as the “godfather” of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including chemical and nuclear weapons.

1980: North Korea succeeds with experiments in bacteria and virus cultivation for biological weapons and by the late 1980s completes live experiments with such weapons, according to a 1999 white paper by South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense.

March 1987: North Korea accedes to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC).

1990-1995: North Korea’s chemical warfare effort is “intensified and expanded,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense. By the late 1980s, North Korea was already “able to produce large quantities of chemical agents and munitions independently.”

November 1991: South Korean President Roh Tae Woo declares that his country will renounce the manufacture, possession, and use of nuclear and chemical weapons and calls upon North Korea to do the same.

February 1992: Kim Il-sung issues a directive that North Korea must provide gas masks to the entire population, according to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense. Military and paramilitary personnel as well as civilians are to participate in regular nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons defense drills.

January 1993: A representative of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry states that North Korea “has never had any chemical weapons” and accuses South Korea of deploying chemical weapons along the demilitarized zone.

May 1993: North Korea conducts tests of a Scud-type missile, which is thought to be capable of carrying a chemical weapon payload.

April 1994: A North Korean defector, Yi Chong-kok, who was a Sergeant in the Nuclear and Chemical Defense Bureau of the Korean People’s Army General Staff, declares that North Korea is capable of delivering chemical weapons with Scud missiles.

April 1996: Japanese police begin investigation and raids of the company Toa Gijutsu Kogyo after one of its employees, Tanetoshi Ri, was arrested on suspicion of smuggling sodium fluoride and hydrofluoric acid from Japan to North Korea without export approval.

October 1999: South Korean President Kim Dae-jung is quoted as saying “If war breaks out, North Korea is likely to use biochemical weapons of mass destruction in an attempt to inflict an initial major blow against us.”

August 2002: U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, John R. Bolton, says that in regard to chemical weapons “there is little doubt that North Korea has an active program.” He also asserts that “The U.S. government believes that North Korea has one of the most robust offensive bioweapons programs on earth.”

2003: South Korea’s defense ministry reports that North Korea is “believed to possess 13 types of bacteria including anthrax, small pox and cholera.” The report also states that North Korea has “produced over ten kinds of lethal chemicals that include nerve, blister, and blood agents,” and that “some 2,500 to 5,000 tons of these chemical agents are estimated to be stored in six separate facilities.”

May 2003: The German government intercepts a 30 metric ton shipment of sodium cyanide, which is the approximate amount necessary to help manufacture 100 tons of the nerve agent tabun. The shipment was officially headed from Germany to Singapore, but was believed by the U.S. government to be bound for North Korea.

January 2004: North Korean defector Kwon Hyok tells BBC news that in 1993 he was head of security at prison camp 22 in Haengyong and witnessed chemical experiments carried out on political prisoners in gas chambers.

February 2004: A South Korean activist shows reporters a document he claims was smuggled by defector and senior electrician, Kang Byong-sop, out of the Vinalon Unified Factory in Hamhung, North Korea. The activist describes this as one of North Korea’s largest chemical weapons plants. A translation of the document states that the prisoner had been transported “for the purpose of human experimentation of liquid gas of chemical weapon [sic.].”

March 2004: After detention in China and his return to North Korea, Kang Byong-sop announces that his son falsified the document alleging North Korean chemical experimentation on prisoners.

November 2004: The CIA releases its semi-annual report for late 2003 and states that North Korea continues its acquisition of dual-use chemicals that could be used in its “long-standing CW program.” The report says that North Korea has the ability to produce large quantities of nerve, blister, choking, and blood agents. It also remarks that while North Korea’s chemical industry is “sizable,” it is “aging.”

May 2005: U.S. State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, states that among the eleven successes over nine months of the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, one case of bilateral cooperation prevented North Korea from “receiving materials used in making chemical weapons.”