April 12th, 2013
07:14 PM ET

Pentagon intel suggested N. Korea nuke capability previously

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.

In February 2011, then-DIA director Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess made a similar statement in written comments to the same Senate committee.

"The North may now have several plutonium-based nuclear warheads that it can deliver by ballistic missiles and aircraft as well as by unconventional means," he said.

Pentagon spokeswoman Col. Anne Edgecomb said the recent DIA report and the previous statements are consistent.

"There isn't much difference," Edgecomb said.

But she acknowledged the DIA report did not represent the viewpoint of the entire intelligence community.

The DIA conclusion was unexpectedly disclosed during a House hearing on Thursday amid heightened tensions following weeks of bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang threatening nuclear attacks on the United States, South Korea and their allies.

U.S. officials have characterized the North's saber rattling as largely bluster but think North Korea could test-launch a mobile ballistic missile at any time in what would be seen by the international community as a highly provocative move.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, read an unclassified portion of the otherwise secret report: "DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivering by ballistic missiles, however the reliability will be low."

U.S officials continued to push back on that assessment on Friday.

"North Korea has not demonstrated the capability to deploy a nuclear-armed missile," White House Spokesman Jay Carney said Friday.

"It is inaccurate to suggest that the DPRK has fully tested, developed or demonstrated capabilities that are articulated in that report," Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to South Korea.

The North Koreans have conducted three underground tests of nuclear devices since 2006, the last just two months ago.

And late last year, they successfully launched for the first time a satellite into orbit using long-range ballistic missile technology.

But experts say there are numerous other steps to master.

"Having that ability to detonate a nuclear warhead in very controlled conditions is quite different from being able to marry a warhead that's small enough to fit on top of missile that can then deliver that to someplace that it needs to go and detonate at the correct altitude to have significant damage result from that detonation," said David Reeths, the Director of IHS Janes Consulting.

U.S. officials do not dispute North Korea has the components to build a nuclear missile.

Reeths said it is "quite possible" the North Koreans could already strike South Korea and "they may even be able to reach Japan."

American officials say North Korea has successfully tested missiles with a range of 800 miles, and miniaturizing a warhead wouldn't be as big of an issue because they use basic Scud missile technology.

A larger warhead can be placed on a missile if it is traveling a shorter distance. But long range ballistic missiles are another story.

To reach the United States, North Korea would have to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) like its Taepo-dong 2, which could put Anchorage and possibly Honolulu within range.

It's estimated that missile could travel 4200 miles, which means it would still be short of hitting mainland cities like Seattle and Los Angeles.

Kerry said Friday in response to a question from CNN's Jill Dougherty, "we don't operate on the presumption that they have that fully tested and available capacity."

A former Obama administration official says "fully tested" doesn't mean launching a missile with a nuclear weapon attached.

The test involves creating essentially a dummy warhead that is matching the weight of an actual warhead, putting all the components in it except for the nuclear material, then being able to control its trajectory without the warhead disintegrating.

The fact the DIA has reached a different conclusion about North Korea's capability than most of the intelligence community is not considered unusual, according to both current and former intelligence officials.

A former senior intelligence official referred to it as "competitive analysis." Analysts are told not to be risk adverse, to push views, said the official. "That's positive."

And a current official said, "different analysts in good faith, using analytical rigor can view intelligence and information differently and come up with different analysis. Ten years ago we were criticized for group think," the official said, a reference to the faulty intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which was the basis for the U.S. invasion of that country.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. giggig

    I have talked to many engineers.Vienna,Darmstadt,Zurich and Lausanne.Here is the mechanisme. They get hired by Iran,officially however ASEA , Burle or whatever. Once the devices have reached test stadium the get reconstructed dublicated in Iran and/or NK, test runs,and testresults back to them in Europe.

    April 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  2. visit this website

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    April 16, 2013 at 10:00 am | Reply
  3. StanCalif

    So we believe NK has nuclear weapons! GWB was convinced that Saddam had terrible weapons! Wrong, wrong, wrong! The US military is fighting to save themselves today What better way than to spread lies!

    April 16, 2013 at 7:22 am | Reply
  4. Shawn

    Should the late Leslie Neilson still be with us another Naked Gun NK style would really hit the spot!

    April 15, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  5. Joe

    Im sure China is embarrased and Im sure there are backroom talks going on.America the root of all evil is funny.The root of all the worlds evil is money and greed and thats just my opinion.One thing is certain they have no need for a nuclear program.If its electricity fine but anything else no.Their Leader is not for the common folks at all and hes young and rash and what goes through that brain of his is a mystery.

    April 14, 2013 at 8:12 am | Reply
  6. john smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015. ha ha ha

    April 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Reply
    • Pete

      @john,quit repeating this garbage..If this is all you have than go back in your hole in sandland and watch out those scorpions get get testy in tight courters yah puke!!

      April 13, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Reply
    • Jimjam77887

      LOL, "root of all terror." It's not the road side bombs of Muslims killing Muslims. It's not crashing airliners full of people into buildings, it's not beheading, cutting off hands, raping women, "honor killings" bother killing sisters... Oh no... It's not that suff, it's America... You should write for "Saturday Night Live."

      April 13, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Reply
    • Joe

      Ah Mr. Smith I do believe you are not capable of an opinion.Someone else gives that opinion to you and you are a drone and nothing else.Its called brainwashing.

      April 14, 2013 at 9:15 am | Reply
    • HJC

      Invaded 60 countries? Depends on how you define "invade" . In the normal meaning and connotation it is clear you are slanting the truth.

      April 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Reply
    • Pork Eating Crusader

      Let me take a wild guess, your Irani aren't you? Its just a matter of time before another revolution will spark in that country and it will happen quickly and secret police wont be able to control it. Little by little millions of other free people like me through the internet have been slowly chipping away at your regimes censorship and its stranglehold on information. Your countrymen are growing tired of being under the sandal of an Ayatollah. Its the natural order of all humans to seek freedom. Theocracy That is as outdated as Communism was 20 years ago. Anyone who reads this, tell others that yes, its ok to NOT believe!

      April 15, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Reply

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