By Pam Benson and Chris Lawrence
Despite the uproar over a disclosure this week of Pentagon intelligence concluding North Korea may be able to deliver a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile, it's not the first time the Defense Intelligence Agency has suggested Pyongyang had that capability.
Since 2005, two former DIA chiefs have raised the possibility during congressional testimony.
At a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing in April 2005, then-DIA director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby acknowledged the possibility in response to a question about whether North Korea had the capability to put a nuclear device on a missile.
"The assessment is that they have the capability to do that," Jacoby said.
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.
A defiant North Korea is threatening both the United States and South Korea in response to the United Nations decision to invoke additional sanctions on Pyongyang for it's rocket launch late last year.
Calling the U.S. a sworn enemy of North Korea, the government of Kim Jong Un vowed to launch more missiles and conduct a nuclear test.
Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr looks into how dangerous the North's nuclear capability really is.
By Pam Benson
Satellite imagery of a North Korean nuclear test site identifies what could be key installations that would likely play a prominent role if Kim Jong Un orders a test, which the government threatened to do on Thursday.
The analysis of the Pung-gye-Ri Nuclear Test site by U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s 38 North blog shows recently completed structures essential to an underground nuclear weapons test.
One is believed to be a command and control bunker. Another photo shows what appears to be a radio relay system that zigzags through a valley, which the 38North analysts believe could be used as part of a communications system linking the bunker to the North Korean leadership in Pyongyang.
"Located about 150 meters (164 yards) north of the test tunnel entrance, the bunker, used only when a test is about to be conducted, would contain equipment for controlling the nuclear device, managing instruments for gathering test data and communicating with authorities in Pyongyang," the report stated. "The bunker would also provide shelter for all personnel in the area."
By Larry Shaughnessy
The signs were there. Fuel trucks at the launch site, rocket stages being assembled. All supported North Korea's claims that sometime between December 10 and 22, it would launch a small satellite into orbit. Or was going to try.
But Sunday the regime admitted technical details will likely delay what was looking to be the first time the reclusive communist regime had attempted two long-range rocket or missile tests in one year. The launch window was extended by a week because of technical issue with the first-stage rocket engine, according to a report published Monday in the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.
"To the degree that they will be more successful than they were last time in such a short period of time and what they've done to correct it, I can't tell you how they assess that," said Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. "Should they choose to go ahead with it, we'll just have to see how it goes."
The delay might indicate that short turnaround was problematic. The April satellite launch failed spectacularly shortly after the engines started.
By Chris Lawrence
The United States and South Korea still have no clear insight on the new leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, nearly a year after he replaced his father.
"We still don't know whether or not he will follow in the footsteps of his father, or whether he represents a different kind of leadership for the future," U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta admitted Wednesday.
Panetta made the comment at a news conference on Wednesday after security talks with his South Korean counterpart. The meetings included discussion of North Korea's young leader, who succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il, after his death in 2011.
By Larry Shaughnessy
U.S. military officials are anxiously awaiting North Korea's announced ballistic missile launch, which they described to Congress on Wednesday as part of the regime's "coercive strategy" to antagonize, provoke and then try to win concessions.
April 15 will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Song, the founder of communist North Korea and the grandfather of the current North Korean leader, who has said there will be a missile launch around that date, in violation of numerous U.N. resolutions and the most recent agreement with the United States.
North Korea has designated the entire year of 2012 as a year of strength and prosperity in celebration of Kim Il Song's birthday.
Over at Global Public Square, Fareed Zakaria's team has an interesting take on North Korea and Iran.
In "Stuck between the U.S. and a hard place," Middle East analyst Meir Javedanfar looks at the possibility of Iran entering negotiations with the P5+1 facilitated by Turkey. If so, he asks, what would the Obama administration have to offer given the pressure from the potential Republican presidential contenders and other countries to take a hard line against Iran.
Also not to be missed, Council on Foreign Relations' Scott Snyder considers "Kim Jong-un's dangerous brother," the eldest son of Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-nam is reported to have been groomed for succession until he fell out of favor in 2001, after being detained at Narita Airport in Japan with a fake passport. As Snyder sees it, Kim Jong-nam stands to be a potent threat to his younger brother, emerging as a vocal critic of the regime.
Read them both on the Global Public Square page.
By Jamie Crawford
As a late twenty-something with no formal military experience of his own takes the reins of power over a cadre of octogenarian generals and a one-million man plus military, North Korea watchers are somewhat divided over the direction Kim Jong Un will ultimately take the hermetic country.
The North's propoganda machine is already in full rallying mode. A New Year's Day message released by the official Korean Central News Agency vowed to stand behind the new leader and defend him "unto death."
For its part, the United States is waiting for the new regime to make the next move. Any decision on moving forward with discussions over issues such as food aid and their nuclear program will have to wait.
"I don't think there's any substantive change from where we were just before the new year," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said recently, "which is that we're waiting to hear from the North Korean side."
With governments and experts alike reading the tea leaves of what the future on the Korean peninsula may hold, there are some early signs and questions to keep an eye on as to how things may bear out.
By Charley Keyes
When in doubt or in times of national turmoil - or, frankly, most days - the editors of the official North Korean news outlet pour on the superlatives, trot out the adjectives and pump up the rhetoric.
"The land and sky of the country seem to bitterly cry," says one official news agency report about public mourning for Kim Jong Il. "Can anyone believe this was a reality? How lamentable it is! Isn't it possible for the hearts of all Koreans to bring him back to life?" says Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA.
State media stories describe crowds overcome by grief and schoolchildren who "burst out sobbing before the portraits carrying his benevolent image that seems to be kindly calling them to come to him."
It's all part of governing by cult-of-personality. But between the lines, North Korea watchers are looking for indications of where the fallen leader's son and chosen successor, Kim Jong Un, now stands. The son remains a mystery both abroad and inside the country. FULL POST