CIA Says North Korea Has Working Nuclear Weapons

In the latest public U.S. intelligence analysis of North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability, the CIA has told Congress that Pyongyang has produced “one or two simple fission-type nuclear weapons” and that the bombs can be expected to work properly even if North Korea does not test the complete systems (see GSN, Nov. 7).

The CIA made the assessment public in an Aug. 18 letter to Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, from CIA Congressional Affairs Director Stanley Moskowitz.

Pyongyang “has validated the designs without conducting yield-producing nuclear tests,” according to the letter. The CIA noted reports of “nuclear weapons related high-explosive tests since the 1980s.”

“With such tests, we assess North Korea would not require nuclear tests to validate simple fission weapons,” the letter says.

Analysts agreed with the CIA assessment.

“Would North Korea have to conduct a nuclear-yield test in order to have a credible deterrent? The answer is no,” said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org. The CIA letter means that the North Koreans “have got the bomb now, rather than that they will have the bomb,” he said.

The CIA letter notes, however, that Pyongyang might detonate a device for political purposes.

“If North Korea decided to escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula, conducting a nuclear test would be one option,” the CIA said (John Donnelly, Defense Week, Nov. 10).

The CIA said that Pyongyang has recognized that there would be serious consequences to detonating a nuclear weapon.

“A North Korean decision to conduct a nuclear test would entail risks for Pyongyang of precipitating an international backlash and further isolation. Pyongyang at this point appears to view ambiguity regarding its nuclear capabilities as providing a tactical advantage,” the letter says (CIA letter/Federation of American Scientists release, Oct. 31).

A senior U.S. official noted, however, that the CIA report calls into question the possibility of ever resolving the nuclear standoff.

“We may never know for sure how many weapons they manufactured and then hid away in some tunnel,” the official said. If North Korea agrees to give up its production facilities and pre-existing weapons, “how would we ever know that we’ve gotten all of it?” the official asked (David Sanger, New York Times, Nov. 9).

November 10, 2003
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In the latest public U.S. intelligence analysis of North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability, the CIA has told Congress that Pyongyang has produced “one or two simple fission-type nuclear weapons” and that the bombs can be expected to work properly even if North Korea does not test the complete systems (see GSN, Nov. 7).

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