James Clapper, head of the American intelligence community, told the House intel committee yesterday that North Korea may have much more formidable nuclear capabilities
than we had previously been led to believe. Bottom line: The North Koreans have made a nuke small enough to ride atop a ballistic missile.
Which means they can
hit targets in the United States.
The information comes from a DIA report produced last March -- although it seems not to have circulated widely until recently. The NYT and other sources stress that North Korea's nuclear missile capability remains untested, and the targeting is likely to be poor.
These words do not make one rest easy.
The assessment’s existence was disclosed Thursday by Representative Doug Lamborn, Republican of Colorado, three hours into a budget hearing of the House Armed Services Committee with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. General Dempsey declined to comment on the assessment because of classification issues.
But late Thursday, the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., released a statement saying that the assessment did not represent a consensus of the nation’s intelligence community and that “North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile.”
The NYT raises one important caveat: The Defense Intelligence Agency, which issued this report, was also quite insistent (a little more than a decade ago) that Iraq had WMDs. If the DIA got it spectacularly wrong then, should we presume that they have it wrong now?
No. Ten years ago, the situation was different. The DIA "got it wrong" because the administration wanted
them to get it wrong.
As the Downing Street Memo made clear, intelligence was being fixed around the policy in the run-up to the Iraq debacle. Having decided on war, the administration urged compliant sectors of the intelligence community -- in particular, the DIA -- to use information from sources like "Curveball," who told the Americans what they wanted to hear. The CIA played the WMD game somewhat more cautiously, always hedging and qualifying their statements, trying to placate the President while simultaneously creating a paper trail that wouldn't look so bad in the eyes of history. That's why the neocons preferred to deal with the military intelligence services. The hawks even set up their own brand-new intelligence shops within the Pentagon, which were little more than propaganda/disinfo units.
Could a similar "fixed intel" situation be happening here? I strongly doubt it
There's one key difference between then and now. In 2002 and 2003, you didn't really need the Downing Street Memo to know that Dubya wanted war; all you needed to do was turn on the teevee or fire up the internet. The throb of those pounding war drums drowned out all other sounds. America's reporters, pols and pundits seemed to get an almost sexual thrill from the prospect of battle and conquest. All of Washington imitated that famous scene in Duck Soup
: "To war, to war, to war we're going to go -- hidee hidee hidee hidee hidee hidee ho!"
There's no hidee-ho
-ing right now. Quite the opposite.
Obama has taken steps to alleviate tensions. Astonishingly, the administration has scrubbed a missile test while telling the North Koreans that they can run tests of their own, as long as the missile doesn't head toward the U.S. or an allied nation. The President looks like someone trying very hard not to seem
as scared as he really is. And South Korean President President Park Geun-hye is doing a similar act.
Although some of my readers will insist otherwise, Obama is not Bush, Kim Jong-Un is not Saddam Hussein, and 2013 is not 2003. Yes, we must learn from history -- but not from an overly simplistic reading of history. If the usual cable news war-whoopers were whooping for war, I'd say that the neo-cons were up to their old tricks again. But I don't hear any whooping.
Strike that: I do hear war-whoops -- but not from Americans. Those sounds are coming from North Korea
CNN’s Jim Clancy reports from the region that the state television broadcaster has begun a propaganda campaign to prepare Pyongyang’s subjects for war, which sounds as though Kim Jong-un has something else in mind than a simple missile test. ”War is just a matter of time,” North Koreans were told today, and that “no one [in the South] will live to regret anything”
And then there's this assessment from The Daily Beast
One piece of evidence to support the view that North Korea can produce a nuclear warhead comes from A.Q. Khan, the man considered to be the father of the Pakistani nuclear program. In correspondences with a former British journalist, Simon Henderson, first disclosed by The Washington Post in 2009, Khan said that during a visit to a North Korean nuclear facility in 1999, he was shown boxes of components for three finished nuclear warheads that could be assembled within an hour.
Henderson, now an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, “Khan holds the abilities of North Korean scientists and engineers in high regard. Although lacking the best technical equipment, they are well trained and determined. I fear Khan was telling the truth about what he saw in North Korea in 1999.”
Charles Ferguson, who is the president of the Federation of American Scientists, has said that he has seen "no evidence" that the North Koreans have created a missile capable of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere after a jaunt in space. But since Ferguson almost certainly has not seen the DIA report referenced above, how much comfort can we find in his words?