From Pam Benson
A former senior US official, who recently retired, says North Korea is a difficult target for the intelligence community but "the coverage is very extensive using national technical means: imagery, intercepts and other means." The official said, "It's hard to get in there, but we do have external capabilities. Looking, listening and watching are all in play."
Moving a missile to the east coast is "very discernible", the official said, even on mobile launchers. The mobile launchers are more difficult–one or two might get through, the official said, but North Korea has limited routes to take whether by rail or road. "It's not a large country with an intricate transportation system."
What is difficult to ascertain is its uranium enrichment program. It could be buried in underground facilities where there are no air samples, nothing to collect.
There are other shortfalls for gathering intelligence on North Korea, in particular a lack of human intelligence, the official said. "We don't have physical access, minimal, if at all," the official said.
What's missing from US knowledge is what are the plans and intentions of the Kim Jung Un regime. "They're not going to attack us or anybody else with nuclear weapons because they know the consequences. They're not suicidal." But there are a lot of unanswered questions, the official said, "Where are they going with their nuclear program? Who is whispering in Kim Jung Un's ear? What's the bottom line?"
The official says the physical aspects are very important, but "we don't necessarily know where all facilities are, the amount of fissile material it has, how many actual weapons they have produced."
"We look from afar, but we're not in the eye of the storm," the official said.
If the regime decides to launch a missile it would undoubtedly be a test, not a strike, the former official said. "They know enough to know not to take the country down." But the former official warned that "it doesn't mean we can't stumble into something that escalates and spins out of control."
The former official does agree with the moves the US has taken in response to North Korea's continued provocations. "Kim Jung Un and the hardliners need to know we are very serious, we have capabilities that are extensive, which extend to our allies in Japan and South Korea and that we are prepared to use them if North Korea does anything of a kinetic nature."
The official doesn't think there is a risk Kim Jung Un and the hardliners could feel they are backed into a corner and be forced to act. "They respect you when you are straight, honest, show what you have and don't threaten them." But when asked if the show of force by the US–the B2 flights, the additional ships–could be considered a threat by North Korea, the official responded, "They put the ball in play with threats of strikes against the U.S."