North Korea likely has nuclear weapons that can be delivered by ballistic weapons, according to a classified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The assessment comes amid escalating rhetoric by Kim Jong-un threatening nuclear strikes on the United States. It’s the clearest statement yet that the boy leader poses a legitimate and imminent nuclear threat.
According to the report, “DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles however the reliability will be low.” That line was read aloud by Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, on Thursday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. Lamborn was questioning Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who seemed taken aback and declined to answer the question, saying, “I haven’t seen it and you said it’s not publicly released, so I choose not to comment on it.”
The conclusion from the DIA plays into a larger debate within the U.S. intelligence community about North Korea’s ability to launch a nuclear missile. While North Korea has conducted three underground nuclear tests since 2006, the U.S. has been divided for years on whether the country’s engineers can place a nuclear warhead atop a ballistic missile. The DIA report now shows that the military’s most important intelligence agency believes, albeit with “moderate confidence,” that North Korea has mastered the technology.
The DIA’s conclusion also has implications for how the U.S. assesses progress on Iran’s nuclear program. North Korea has shared advanced missile technology with Iran, according to a February 2010 diplomatic cable disclosed the same year by WikiLeaks. North Korean engineers were also found at the Syrian nuclear site bombed by Israel in 2007 known as al-Kibar, according to photos released by the U.S. government nearly a year after the strike.
Last month President Obama said during his trip to Israel that Iran would need a year to develop a nuclear weapon after it mastered the process of creating the highly enriched uranium needed to make a nuclear bomb. If Iran’s ally, North Korea, already has developed this technology it’s possible that Iran could make nuclear weapons in less time than Obama’s estimate.