Mistake in classification led to N. Korea info being revealed
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey (L) listens as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testifies before the House Armed Services Committee Thursday.
April 11th, 2013
09:37 PM ET

Mistake in classification led to N. Korea info being revealed

By Jamie Crawford, with reporting from Pam Benson, Deirdre Walsh, Chris Lawrence and Barbara Starr

The Pentagon was caught by surprise Thursday when sensitive information about North Korea's nuclear program from a classified March 2013 report was "mistakenly" declassified and discussed during an open hearing on Capitol Hill, raising questions about how such a significant error could have occurred.

In a hearing by the House Armed Services Committee to discuss the Pentagon's budget, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, read from what he said was an unclassified sentence in an otherwise classified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

"DIA assess with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles, however, the reliability will be low," Lamborn read before posing a question about its significance to Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.

"Well, I haven't seen it," Dempsey said in response, appearing caught off guard. "And you said it's not publicly released, so I - I choose not to comment on it."

Multiple officials told CNN after the hearing that the information read by Lamborn was "mistakenly" marked as unclassified.

"Several of us here in the Pentagon were shocked by hearing that assessment read aloud in an open hearing," one defense official told CNN.

The line came from a seven-page report, "Dynamic Threat Assessment 8099: North Korea Nuclear Weapons Program."

"The only thing DIA has unclassified is that one sentence and the title," Lamborn said later Thursday in an interview with CNN. "This is not briefing reports supplied to the committee, this is simply a DIA analysis, a seven-page report in which one sentence is unclassified."

An aide to the committee confirmed to CNN that Lamborn received the material from committee staff before the hearing.

"We were very careful and checked with DIA. to confirm that was an unclassified section before beginning any kind of conversation within an open setting about it," the aide said. "We checked to make sure it was not something that was mistakenly declassified."

"We double and triple-checked to make sure that what was divulged in an open forum was declassified," Lamborn said Thursday night in an interview on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360.

The scenario that played out raised the question of how it could have even occurred in the first place.

"Classification decisions are more of an art than a science," a government official familiar with those procedures told CNN.

While certain paragraphs within a report may be classified at different levels to protect the revelation of certain sources and methods, the official said it was unusual to have one sentence in a report declassified.

Such a decision would most likely come from the head of the agency that published the report, or a more senior official such as the director of national intelligence, who is charged with overseeing the entire intelligence community.

A congressional source told CNN there is a layered approach to classification with the level of classification indicated on each paragraph.

While certain paragraphs within reports are occasionally declassified, the source said it is highly unusual for a conclusion, such as the assessment read by Lamborn, to be declassified.

While questions as to how the statement was ultimately declassified are certain to mount within the intelligence community, the Pentagon played down the gravity of the assessment on Thursday evening.

"While I cannot speak to all the details of a report that is classified in its entirety, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed, or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a written statement.

"The United States continues to closely monitor the North Korean nuclear program and calls upon North Korea to honor its international obligations," he added.

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  6. NYC Fitness Event

    "Mistakenly" declassified and discussed during an open hearing on Capitol Hill, raising questions about how such a significant error could have occurred? Clearly political!

    February 3, 2014 at 9:37 pm | Reply
  7. doabitofhomework

    Nothing gives more credence to the necessity of classifying intel than the kind of people that show up here for comments.

    WikiLeaks had the notion that all intel – ALL info – was the public's right to be told. The idea had to have an underlying presumption that the public also had the capability of understanding the implications and responding to things responsibly.

    Right here is proof that the public has no such capabilities. The very notion that anyone here who lives in the free world could say that we should start throwing nukes around is enough to curl your hair. What if such an imbecile should one day end up as our president? Brrr.

    I've read comments for years where people (mostly Americans, too) were slathering for us to "turn Tehran into a parking lot," and many other cutesy references. Sure, it's because they have too much testosterone and too little of anything else that a man ought to have. Should we, then, ban Viagra? Better than global thermonuclear war.

    I can't say I like being ignorant of top secret affairs that might have large impacts on me and the rest of the world, but I like even less when classified stuff is revealed that shouldn't be. It gets our right-wing wingnuts throbbing with warlust.

    The best policy for NK is to ignore them. They're like schoolyard bullies, who threaten and threaten, but will only hit you if they have a bunch of guys willing to back them up. In NK's case, it's a bully using China to back it up. So it makes Mr. Un feel like a real man, because he obviously feels sure China will have his back, no matter what.

    The real fulcrum in this balance is China. We should tell them we're fine with the idea of them having NK as a "buffer" between themselves and the West, even between them and S. Korea. But what we're not fine with is the arrogance and saber rattling that Mr. Un is getting off on. We should tell them they can resolve the problem by insisting that NK develop education, infrastructure and its economy, so people can work at real jobs, earn real money and support their families. THAT would make Mr. Un genuinely liked. China should demand that NK lay off the emphasis on military, and lay its prime emphasis on the growth of the country via its people. He can pull it off if he wants to. For now, he doesn't want to. He thinks that no matter what he says or does, China will support him unequivocally, even if they're T'd off at him. They have to make it clear to him that they're more than T'd off. That they've had enough of his bullying FOREVER.

    Sooner or later, by the "boy who cried wolf" axiom, Mr. Un will have no choice but to ACT on at least one, or a few, of his threats. To save face, if nothing else. Only China can put a lid on that.

    China – and ONLY China – can keep this bruhaha from becoming a real war. All they have to do is tell Mr. Un to "cool it," OR ELSE they'll lose China's support for good. They'll cut NK off entirely. Without aid from China, NK would crumble quickly, and they know it. They rely, UTTERLY, on China. So let China take either the initiative, OR the blame regarding war on the Korean peninsula.

    Choose, China. But choose wisely.

    April 12, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Reply
    • Joe

      Daobit That is well said! The info was a mistake coming out or someone has an agenda and wanted to raise a little fuss.

      April 14, 2013 at 10:17 am | Reply
  8. Wendy

    ...The Repblicans cant start a war....the President Can. And last time I checked he was NOT a Republican. Also, none of you are paying attention to all the facts. You are simply reading a headline and commenting on a story that you think is being told.

    April 12, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Reply
    • WRONG!

      Only congress can declare war not the President.

      April 12, 2013 at 2:32 pm | Reply
    • Pete

      @Wendy,congress has to not the president..And we're just getting to leave Afghanistan so why start another one unless you wanna go,I sure as hell don't and who won this one just another Vietnam that's all,all blood and empty hands ta boot...

      April 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  9. daniel keshi

    Kickstart the nuclear war now

    April 12, 2013 at 11:08 am | Reply
  10. Pete

    Just republicans trying to start another useless war that's all to keep the MIC going to fill their pockets ...Remember how everyone talks of military,defense cutbacks than bang another war to put it back on life support after pulling the plug..Republicans just can't get enough of death and destruction because nobody of any meaning of theirs like relatives have a stake in the game..Did I hit any nerves here republicans or you posters,I hope so!!!

    April 12, 2013 at 9:31 am | Reply
    • J.M.

      no nerve, just thought it was an ill thought comment.
      BTW: Not republican, nor Democrat just like to think on my own.

      April 12, 2013 at 10:43 am | Reply
      • Pete

        @J.M. ,I hope you're not saying mine's ill thought of because I meant it with facts to back it up..So you're independent,nothing wrong with that as long as its constructive that's all not of republicans throwing out inaccuracies all the time thinking they're intelligent which most are not!!Just look at their voting record it speaks for itself doesn't it,all losers all republicans!!

        April 12, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • allan wrench

      Pete you are a bigoted idiot. Guessing you are a follower of Goebbels

      April 13, 2013 at 9:22 am | Reply
      • Pete

        @Allan,so you know who Joseph Goebbels of Hitler fame is the propaganda specialist is or did you just throw it at me thinking you're so smart just Googling it or something.I'm not a bigot or an idiot because I love all people even ignorents like yourself and I've probibly forgot more than your punk ass knows,Kabish!!And Allan if you're republican the shoe must fit so wear it bud!!

        April 13, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  11. kurlis

    One wonders who gave North Korea the knowledge to construct a nuclear weapon small enough to mount on a ballistic missile. I wager Pakistan. Our "friends" whom we should think about nuking.

    April 12, 2013 at 9:08 am | Reply
    • J.M.

      or perhaps the designer went to a US college on a full scholarship then went back home.

      April 12, 2013 at 9:27 am | Reply
    • Robert

      They most likely combined what they knew with what Iran provided them. If you look at the two country's nuclear and missile programs, they have dissimilar deficiencies. For example, Iran's weapons while more accurate their reach is shorter. Iran has not detonated an effective nuclear weapon but they have a much more developed ability to miniaturize electronics and have better materials to create a lightweight warhead. There are natural synergies that could have led to this ability. What people need to think about is what went to Iran from North Korea, because if this is true of them. It is certain that it is true or will be shortly true of Iran.

      April 12, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  12. Bobtheman

    And oh ya, Iraq has weapons of mass destruction......We should go to war with them .(Said by someone 10 years ago to justify Iraq war.)

    April 12, 2013 at 8:47 am | Reply
  13. j.m

    One line was declassified, – "DIA assess with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles, however, the reliability will be low,"
    I'm not an analyst, nor even in the DOD, but, seeing that N.K. can barely feed itself and doesn't play well with others, while the whole area produces inferior products. I could have written it.
    Hopefully there was more to this story that this?

    April 12, 2013 at 8:38 am | Reply
  14. Angus McName

    Gen: "Dammit, we need some reason to bomb the hell out of those pesky g00ks."
    Maj: "We could claim they have sophisticated WMDs and could hurt us badly at any minute?"
    Gen: *laughs heartily*
    Gen: "Good ole WMDs but nah, we already said that in Irak. We also told already otherwise multiple times."
    Maj: "Ah, yes, I forgot. Can't we do it twice, tho?"
    Gen: "Nobody's gonna believe us."
    Maj: "Does that really matter?"
    Gen: "A little."
    Maj: "Ok, but we could pretend it's an information leak, then, like an accidental declassification?"
    Gen: "That's stupid!"
    Maj: "Exactly. Nobody will believe we are that stupid and therefore they will believe it."
    Gen: "Not stupid enough, I'm afraid."
    Maj: "We could declassify only a single sentence."
    Gen: "Now that's incredibly stupid. Is that even possible?"
    Maj: "Well, that's the point."
    Gen: "Ok, do it."

    April 12, 2013 at 7:56 am | Reply
    • Here & Now

      This is a version that's very highly probably, considering the US is at its wits end on what to do with Fatboy. Any excuse to launch a preemptive strike, and this sounds as good a reason as any...

      April 12, 2013 at 8:38 am | Reply
    • KLG

      I love how posters portray the military powers that be as intellectual defects when in fact they are undoubtedly (ever try to get an appointment to a military academy?) an order of magnitude more capable of making these grave decisions with a broad and deeply thought out mindset than anyone who has ever posted on one of these mindless comment boards. Myself included.

      April 12, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Reply
      • J.M.

        With the sheer amount of people attending College and Universities in the US and elsewhere and the fact that the richest man in the world is a Harvard dropout, your argument holds little water. While some are indeed very, very bright, not all. A great education does not translate into great skill in any chosen field.
        Dumb is dumb, no matter who you are. Just ask Bill and Monica.

        April 12, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  15. Yash

    If this is not a wise move to "shock" public – then what?
    There must be a reason (beyound NKorea threats) to allow to strike them. I think thats what States are up-to: Wait for any excuse to strike.

    Surely Russia (post Soviet) and China have assisted in NKorea's nuclear developments and it is still unknown how all this can turn out. The legs of NKoreas kommunism are growing out of Soviet Union's an China's bodies.

    Anyway – if they (any of sides) will pull nukes out – that will have sad consequences for everything and anything on the Earth.

    April 12, 2013 at 7:48 am | Reply
  16. ATR

    several repports will be declasified just to build up for a N.korea bombing or invassions just like the Sadams WMD.....and the chinese are with,......... far in the background.

    April 12, 2013 at 6:46 am | Reply
  17. sharyf

    dont worry there is still enough classified stuff

    April 12, 2013 at 5:52 am | Reply
  18. daniel keshi

    DIA assessment claims North~Korea currently has Nuclear weapons, I aggree with you & I want to add that I saw the weapons long ago & wondered why Washington just announced it, I equaly expected Goliath Cameron to confirm the site of the WMD sorry Nuclear Weapons & their capabilities & let the Django strike again

    April 12, 2013 at 5:47 am | Reply
  19. Sanseh

    More hype to justify war. Obviously Americans are purposely telling the world the possibility as America has put an missile shield in place in case. Further North Korea has tested nukes, missiles and put things in space, so obviously have the capability. Further there is nothing technical given the report is an opinion or assessment that anyone could make. If given specific information of warhead mated to missile certainly the statements does not tell this.

    April 12, 2013 at 5:36 am | Reply
  20. zoomanager

    BS big time, unclassified only one sentence and this happens to be the most important one!? Remember how Iraq war started? With famous report on Iraq´s WMD.

    April 12, 2013 at 5:22 am | Reply
  21. Alan Page

    Didn't know that tell the Truth in public was considered "a mistake"...

    April 12, 2013 at 5:17 am | Reply
  22. Thetruth

    Seems it has something to do with the budget. In the past we've heard things like Russian submarine staying close to the US for a month undetected before leaving etc.

    April 12, 2013 at 4:55 am | Reply
  23. helenecha

    People have pay more attention on what North Korea is speaking what it is doing. What if people know its low reliability of delivery by ballistic missiles? As we all know, the hunters usually don't give up their targets delivered by the sounds and the activities of running wild animals while marching for the delicious.

    April 12, 2013 at 2:44 am | Reply
  24. what_if

    what if the "mistaken declassification" could become a strategic justification of a needed increase in Defense budget?

    April 12, 2013 at 1:34 am | Reply
  25. blindsnipera

    so the DIA didn't learn their lesson under Cheney ? manufacturing intel again? iraq, again???

    April 12, 2013 at 1:21 am | Reply
    • Mike in Wa

      Except for the fact that Korea has completed 3 nuclear weapon tests and they have tested several ballistic missiles. Don't recall how successful the last tests were nothing that was "declassified" was really that big of a secret.

      April 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  26. twistedpuppet

    Somebody lost their job today. :V

    April 11, 2013 at 11:46 pm | Reply
  27. wjm

    Can you say Ooops. Sounds more like to many cooks in the kitchen, and that they forgot to use the cones of silence.

    April 11, 2013 at 10:58 pm | Reply

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