(WASHINGTON) — The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded with “moderate confidence” that North Korea might be capable of placing a nuclear weapon small enough that could be delivered by a ballistic missile. The DIA also says that if that is the case, the reliability of the missile would be low.
The alarming assessment came near the end of a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. It also came as North Korea has been issuing threats that range from nuclear war against the U.S. and South Korea to testing a new missile.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, D-Colo., asked Dempsey if he agreed with a recent classified DIA report that contained an unclassified section that said, “DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low.”
Dempsey eventually admitted he had not seen this report so he couldn’t answer the congressman’s question.
Moderate confidence is an intelligence term that signals plausibility. A definition found in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear capabilities defined it as “generally means credibly sourced and plausible information, but not of sufficient quality or corroboration to warrant a higher level of confidence.”
A U.S. official said it’s his understanding that the intelligence community as a whole has not made that determination and this might be just the DIA’s assessment.
A spokesperson for Lamborn’s office says the congressman had recently visited his committee’s reading room to read the unclassified portion of the report called “Dynamic Threat Assessment 8099: North Korea Nuclear Weapons Program (March 2013).”
All he found was the following sentence that he read to Dempsey on Thursday: “DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low.”
At another Capitol Hill hearing, James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, had earlier testified that “North Korea has already demonstrated capabilities that threaten the United States and the security environment in East Asia.” He listed North Korea’s nuclear test in February, their plan to restart the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon and last year’s display of the KN-08 missile, which he said “appears to be a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile.”
“We believe Pyongyang has already taken initial steps towards fielding this system, although it remains untested,” he said. Last December’s launch of a Taepodong 2 missile that placed a satellite in orbit demonstrated its long-range missile technology.
“These developments have been accompanied with extremely belligerent, aggressive public rhetoric towards the United States and South Korea. We continue to carefully monitor developments in anticipation of North Korea’s next provocative step.”
The world’s attention has been drawn to what U.S. officials believe could be the imminent launch of a mid-range mobile ballistic missile called the Musudan. A U.S. official says possibly as many as two missiles have been located in the town of Wonsan along North Korea’s eastern coast.
The official says a Musudan missile or missiles have been spotted being moved out of the shed on their launchers and then being set up upright into the firing position. The missile has then been spotted by American satellites being lowered into the horizontal position and moved back into the shed. This has happened more than once.
Part of the reason why the U.S. can’t fully ascertain that there are two missiles in the shed is that only one comes out at a time. The notion that there are two is because more gear than is necessary for one missile was spotted during the transport and possibly at the current location.
“They’re teasing us,” said a U.S. official. This same official offered the explanation that the repeated up and down of the loader into the firing position could be training on the part of the North Koreans to prepare for a launch on short notice.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Joe Sterling and Darran Simon, CNN
Samantha Beech, CNN