DOD Intel Views on N. Korea’s Nuke Advances Not Shared by Other Agencies: Clapper

A possible mockup of a North Korean strategic ballistic missile is rolled out during an April 2012 parade in Pyongyang. The recent finding by the Pentagon's intelligence arm that the North has likely learned how to miniaturize nuclear warheads is not shared by other agencies, according to the U.S. national intelligence director (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan).
A possible mockup of a North Korean strategic ballistic missile is rolled out during an April 2012 parade in Pyongyang. The recent finding by the Pentagon's intelligence arm that the North has likely learned how to miniaturize nuclear warheads is not shared by other agencies, according to the U.S. national intelligence director (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan).

WASHINGTON -- The recent conclusion by a Pentagon agency that North Korea is likely able to fit nuclear warheads to ballistic missiles is not shared by the rest of the U.S. intelligence community, National Intelligence Director James Clapper told lawmakers on Thursday.

“We lack uniform agreement in assessing many things in North Korea. Its actual nuclear capabilities are no exception,” Clapper said.

The Defense Intelligence Agency said in March it had “moderate confidence” the North had learned how to miniaturize nuclear weapons. Representative Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) read aloud an unclassified sentence from a classified report at a congressional hearing last week, causing a miniature uproar in Washington and rapid backtracking by the Obama administration.

Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that that sentence should have been classified.

North Korea has not “fully developed, tested or demonstrated the full-range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear-armed missile,” he said. “Characterizing such capabilities for us in intelligence is a complex and nuanced process requiring sophisticated and highly technical analysis.”

“They have what appears to be the basic ingredients for nuclear-equipped missiles,” Clapper added during questioning by panel members.

While Pyongyang has carried out three nuclear tests to date, including its most powerful underground blast yet in February, the pariah state is judged to not yet have acquired a reliable strategic ballistic missile. It has only carried out one fully successful staged long-range rocket launch.

The country would also have to develop a re-entry vehicle tough enough to withstand the environmental rigors of passing back through the atmosphere at extremely high speeds. “It is indeed rocket science,” Clapper said, echoing the assessments of many experts in characterizing the difficulty for any nation looking to develop an ICBM.

The Defense Intelligence Agency in its disclosed assessment did not say Pyongyang was likely to have a workable ICBM and noted that any North Korean strategic missile at this point would have a low reliability.

“The issue here is what we know in fact and what we impute from those facts and that’s where you get into the differences and confidence levels that people [in the intelligence community] have,” Clapper explained.

Differences of viewpoint between agencies have to do with their confidence levels in particular assessments, such as whether North Korea has learned how to make compact warheads.  “DIA has a higher confidence level than the rest of the community on that capability, that’s the difference,” he said.

“For those looking to find infighting within the [intelligence community] on North Korea, I'm sorry to disappoint. To the contrary, this reflects an integrated, collaborative and competitive analysis process that's open to all views,” said Clapper, who testified alongside DIA chief Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Flynn described the variable thinking between his organization and other intelligence outfits as “a difference in how we judge assumptions” about North Korea. He offered to describe the specific methodology used by the Defense Intelligence Agency during a closed session.

A multiagency intelligence assessment on North Korea’s strategic capabilities is in the works. Clapper did not immediately disclose when that review would be completed.

There have been rising fears about illicit missile and nuclear development collaboration between North Korea and Iran. Clapper, however, in response to a question by Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said he does not see evidence of much unconventional arms cooperation between the two states. “The Iranians are a little wary of the North Koreans.”

Clapper also discussed ongoing concerns about possible chemical weapons use or proliferation in the Syrian civil war.

The "increasingly beleaguered” Bashar Assad regime “appears quite willing to use chemical weapons against his own people” as conventional means have not overwhelmed armed rebels.

“We receive many claims of chemical warfare use in Syria each day, and we take them all seriously and we do all we can to investigate them,” Clapper said, declining to go into more detail during a public hearing.

A U.N. team that would probe allegations made by both rebels and Damascus of chemical weapons use has yet to enter Syria. The Assad government is refusing to admit the investigators if the United Nations does not first agree to confine its probe to only the alleged chemical attack in March at the village of Khan al-Assal.

During later questioning by committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Clapper said he had not and would not make a judgment call on whether President Obama’s “red line” on the use of chemical weapons had been crossed. “That is a policy question and not one for intelligence to comment on.”

April 18, 2013
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WASHINGTON -- The recent conclusion by a Pentagon agency that North Korea is likely able to fit nuclear warheads to ballistic missiles is not shared by the rest of the U.S. intelligence community, National Intelligence Director James Clapper told lawmakers on Thursday.

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