This report was originally published on Feb. 24th, 2003 and has been since forgotten by America down the memory hole and retrieved today for your convenience. 


Donald Rumsfeld, the US secretary of defence, was on the board of technology giant ABB when it won a deal to supply North Korea with two nuclear power plants.

Weapons experts say waste material from the two reactors could be used for so-called “dirty bombs”.

The Swiss-based ABB on Friday told swissinfo that Rumsfeld was involved with the company in early 2000, when it netted a $200 million (SFr270million) contract with Pyongyang.

The ABB contract was to deliver equipment and services for two nuclear power stations at Kumho, on North Korea’s east coast.

Rumsfeld – who is one of the Bush administration’s most strident “hardliners” on North Korea – was a member of ABB’s board between 1990 and February 2001, when he left to take up his current post.

Wolfram Eberhardt, a spokesman for ABB, told swissinfo that Rumsfeld “was at nearly all the board meetings” during his decade-long involvement with the company.

Maybe, maybe not

However, he declined to indicate whether Rumsfeld was made aware of the nuclear contract with North Korea.

“This is a good question, but I couldn’t comment on that because we never disclose the protocols of the board meetings,” Eberhardt said.

“Maybe this was a discussion point of the board, maybe not.”

The defence secretary’s role at ABB during the late 1990s has become a bone of contention in Washington.

The ABB contract was a consequence of a 1994 deal between the US and Pyongyang to allow construction of two reactors in exchange for a freeze on the North’s nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea revealed last year that it had secretly continued its nuclear weapons programme, despite its obligations under the deal with Washington.

The Bush government has repeatedly used the agreement to criticise the former Clinton administration for being too soft on North Korea. Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, has been among the most vocal critics of the 1994 weapons accord.

Dirty bombs

Weapons experts have also speculated that waste material from the two reactors could be used for so-called “dirty bombs”.

Rumsfeld’s position at ABB could prove embarrassing for the Bush administration since while he was a director he was also active on issues of weapons proliferation, chairing the 1998 congressional Ballistic Missile Threat commission.

The commission suggested the Clinton-era deal with Pyongyang gave too much away because “North Korea maintains an active weapons of mass destruction programme, including a nuclear weapons programme”.

From Zurich to Pyongyang

At the same time, Rumsfeld was travelling to Zurich for ABB’s quarterly board-meetings.

Eberhardt said it was possible that the North Korea deal never crossed the ABB boardroom desk.

“At the time, we generated a lot of big orders in the power generation business [worth] around $1 billion…[so] a $200 million contract was, so to speak, a smaller one.”

When asked whether a deal with a country such as North Korea – a communist state with declared nuclear intentions – should have been brought to the ABB board’s attention, Eberhardt told swissinfo:

“Yes, maybe. But so far we haven’t any evidence for that because the protocols were never disclosed. So maybe it was a discussion point, maybe not,” says Eberhardt.

A Pentagon spokeswoman, Victoria Clark, recently told “Newsweek” magazine that “Secretary Rumsfeld does not recall it being brought before the board at any time”.

It was a long time ago

Today, ABB says it no longer has any involvement with the North Korean power plants, due to come on line in 2007 and 2008.

The company finalised the sale of its nuclear business in early 2000 to the British-based BNFL group.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber

Additional Report:


Did Donald Rumsfeld Aid North Korea’s Nuclear Program?: A New Report Reveals Rumsfeld Was On Board of Zurich Firm Abb Which Sold North Korea Two Nuclear Reactors

A new report reveals Rumsfeld was on the board of Zurich-based firm ABB which sold North Korea two nuclear reactors. [includes rush transcript]

There is one image from the 1980s that might best highlight the ties between the Reagan and Bush White House to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. It is a grainy video image of a U.S. envoy enthusiastically shaking hands with Hussein himself. The year was 1983 and the envoy was Donald Rumsfeld, the current Secretary of Defense.

Over the past year Rumsfeld’s pair of visits to Baghdad in the early 1980s gained considerable attention but he has generally refused to comment on his trips.

And now it turns out that Rumsfeld is refusing to talk about his possible connections with another of the nations in the so-called Axis of Evil: North Korea.

A new report in Fortune magazine has unveiled that Rumsfeld might have played a direct role in helping North Korea build its potential nuclear capacity.

Three years ago Rumsfeld was sitting on the board of a Zurich-based engineering firm that won a $200 million contract to provide the design and key components for a pair of North Korean nuclear reactors.

The company is ABB. Rumsfeld served on the board from 1990 to 2001. He was the only American serving on the board. And he has never acknowledged ABB’s role building the reactors in North Korea.

But a former ABB director recently told Fortune magazine that Rumsfeld was asked to lobby in Washington on ABB’s behalf.

We are joined by the Fortune magazine writer Richard Behar. The forthcoming issue of the magazine contains his article “Rummy’s North Korea Connection: What Did Donald Rumsfeld Know About ABB’s Deal to Build Nuclear Reactors There? And Why Won’t He Talk About It?”

  • Richard Behar, journalist with Fortune magazine. He wrote the article.
  • Bjoern Edlund, spokesperson for ABB.