New U.S. intelligence estimates on North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) given to Congress on Wednesday, July 26th did not survive contact with reality for 48 hours.
The intelligence community essentially admits to grossly underestimating North Korea’s ICBM threat, based on Pyongyang’s first successful ICBM flight-test on July 4.
Range estimated for North Korea’s KN-20 ICBM increased from being able to strike Alaska and Hawaii, to striking the U.S. west coast — increasing the estimated range by hundreds of kilometers.
Estimated Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for North Korean deployment of a "reliable" ICBM went from being 2-4 years in the future, to next year—shaving years off estimated IOC.
48 hours after Congress received the above new intelligence estimate, on Friday, July 28, North Korea conducted another successful ICBM flight-test — demonstrating even more advanced capabilities.
Based on the July 28 flight-test, the estimated range of North Korea’s ICBM has again been revised upward. It has a demonstrated capability to hit Denver, Colo. and Chicago, Ill. Some analysts now estimate the IOC for ICBM deployment is this year.
Even these new revised estimates are probably grossly understating North Korea’s ICBM capabilities. Many analysts still cling to the fiction that "miniaturizing" warheads and making reentry vehicles are significant technical obstacles, when North Korea has mastered far greater technological challenges by successfully testing ICBMs and nuclear weapons.
Kim Jong-un claims his KN-20 ICBM can strike New York City and Washington, DC—the entire United States. This claim is consistent with the fact that during its July 28 flight-test, the KN-20 flew for 45 minutes. Russian ICBMs located farther away, in central Asia, can hit any part of the United States in 30 minutes.
And some independent analysts assess the KN-20 can strike as far as Miami, threatening the entire U.S.
Kim Jong-Un has been claiming a capability to make a nuclear missile strike against the U.S. mainland since 2012, when North Korea orbited a satellite over the U.S. on a trajectory consistent with making a high-altitude EMP attack that could blackout North America.
Kim Jong-Un has also claimed having an operational capability to blast U.S. cities since parading his KN-08 ICBM in 2012.
Some of us have warned that the EMP threat from North Korean satellites, and the threat to U.S. cities from North Korea’s KN-08 and KN-14 ICBMs is not in the future—but here and now. (See my article “Underestimating the North Korean Nuclear Threat” Secure Freedom Quarterly, 2016.)
It is a sad and dangerous state of affairs when North Korea’s dictator is a more reliable and accurate source of information than the U.S. intelligence community, academia, and the national press.
Our intelligence failure against North Korea has grave implications for the credibility of intelligence community assessments that Iran assuredly does not yet have the bomb, that Iran assuredly has suspended its nuclear weapons program, and therefore the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) is at least delaying an Iranian A-Bomb.
How can cock-sure intelligence estimates about Iran’s nuclear weapons program be trusted, when the intelligence community has failed so spectacularly against North Korea?
North Korea’s ICBM program is a much easier intelligence target than Iran’s nuclear weapons program. North Korean ICBM flight-tests are necessarily conducted openly, in full view of the most sophisticated U.S. national technical means for collecting intelligence. The U.S. has even recovered North Korean missile boosters and other parts from the ocean for analysis.
And with all of this, the U.S. intelligence community still got it wrong, and has had to revise estimates of North Korea’s ICBM threat.
In contrast, Iran’s nuclear weapons program is a much tougher intelligence target, if only because it is underground and probably hidden away on military bases inaccessible to inspections. U.S. intelligence did not even know about the existence of Iran’s nuclear weapons program until 2002, years after it began, when it was revealed by Iranian dissidents.
The same dissident group that originally revealed Iran’s nuclear weapons program recently claimed the program continues, in violation of the JCPOA.
Moreover, U.S. intelligence does not get to do inspections of Iran’s known nuclear facilities for JCPOA compliance. We have to rely on the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
IAEA has a very poor record as a nuclear weapons watchdog, having been fooled by North Korea, Pakistan, Libya, and Iraq.
However, a 2011 IAEA report all but declares Iran has nuclear weapons.
Former senior intelligence and national security officials from the Reagan and Clinton administrations wrote in National Review (Feb. 12, 2016), "We assess, from U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency reports and other sources, that Iran probably already has nuclear weapons. Over 13 years ago, prior to 2003, Iran was manufacturing nuclear-weapon components, like bridge-wire detonators and neutron initiators, performing non-fissile explosive experiments of an implosion nuclear device, and working on the design of a nuclear warhead for the Shahab-III missile. Thirteen years ago Iran was already a threshold nuclear-missile state. It is implausible that Iran suspended its program for over a decade for a nuclear deal with President Obama."
Mr. President, tear-up the JCPOA. Iran is another North Korea.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. He served in the Congressional EMP Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, the House Armed Services Committee, and the CIA. He is author of "Blackout Wars."
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