Nightly News   |  July 16, 2013

Confiscated weapons likely headed for North Korea, US officials say

A shipment of weapons system components hidden in sugar containers was intercepted on its way from Cuba to North Korea after being searched on suspicion of drugs. NBC’s Mark Potter reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. any time a shipment of weapons system componentses is intercepted on its way from cuba to north korea , it's going to get attention. that's the case tonight. it reminds folks of another time, when jfk was in the white house , and the world stood still over a stand-off over weapons in cuba . it was an intercept of illegal weapons components on board a vessel where they were hiding their cargo, hoping to get through the panama canal and then halfway around the world undetected. it's where we begin tonight with nbc's mark potter in miami.

>> reporter: what lacked the drama of some of the high seas encounter of the red scare years. it appears two old enemies of the u.s. were caught red handed . the ship was first detained because they suspected it carried illegal drugs . they found something entirely different. panama's president called it " undeclared war like cargo." originating in cuba . he even tweeted a photo. the president said when the ship was boarded, the crew of 35 resisted and the north korean captain had what appeared to be a heart attack, then tried to commit suicide. what the panamanian's found were pieces of a large weapons system , apparently part of an aging soviet air to missile system.

>> this looks like radar, rather than missiles that would pose a real threat to the rest of the world .

>> reporter: the equipment was likely headed to north korea to be refurbished and sold on the global arms market for cash. that would violate international sanctions against north korea arms trafficking , of which there have been many examples in recent years.

>> any shipment would violate u.n. security council resolutions.

>> reporter: u.s. officials left no doubt they are working closely with panama.

>> we commend their actions, we are in touch with them. i'm not going to detail how we're in touch with them.

>> reporter: panama plans to search the ship thoroughly to see what else they can find. where the equipment came from, where it was going and why it was hidden on a north korean ship.