CIA’s Pompeo fuzzy on US ability to contain North Korean nuclear threat

Pompeo said that Trump administration policy is to denuclearize North Korea, a program he has called a “real risk.”

January 25, 2018 07:30
3 minute read.
CIA’s Pompeo fuzzy on US ability to contain North Korean nuclear threat

Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed briefing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 16, 2017. . (photo credit: REUTERS/AARON P. BERNSTEIN)

CIA Director Mike Pompeo has implied in a speech in Washington that the US will not be able to entirely stop North Korea from having the ability to strike the US mainland with a nuclear weapon, adding that his main job now is to contain Pyongyang’s atomic arsenal.

Pompeo said that Trump administration policy is to denuclearize North Korea, a program he has called a “real risk.” Yet he appeared to acknowledge that it was more realistic to set a goal of seeking to prevent Pyongyang from moving from a small number of nuclear weapons to a full arsenal.

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“US policy is we will denuclearize... but if it’s the case, in the event we haven’t gotten there... The secondary mission is to keep them from getting there,” Pompeo said. “There is a focus on [North Korean] time lines [for being able to strike the US]... We shouldn’t think about time lines... We should think about reliability.”

“We are working diligently to keep them months away... it’s not a static time frame,” he said.

“It’s one thing to be able to say yes, yes it’s possible” for North Korea to hit the US mainland with nuclear weapons “if everything went right,” Pompeo said, but leader Kim Jong Un wants to make “the US believe he can deliver the pain.”

Further, he said that North Korea’s nuclear program had advanced “at a very rapid clip. Their testing capacity has improved... they have increased materially the successfulness of their tests” in getting closer to putting “America at risk,” and that he expected the North wanted to “develop an arsenal of weapons... that is the mission set – to make sure that never occurs.”

His tough line on North Korea and Iran-related nuclear issues has been viewed very positively by Israeli officials who are worried that leniency with Pyongyang could lead to leniency for Iran and an elevated nuclear threat to Israel.

Despite these challenges, the head of the US spy agency said that he was impressed by “the remarkable CIA creativity which led to our capacity to interdict shipments into North Korea. It’s not quite where it needs to be, but we have officers all around the world... we work diligently to support the US pressure campaign, to achieve the president’s mission of denuclearization of the peninsula.

Finally, he did not rule out a preemptive strike on North Korea, though he clearly was not publicly pushing for such a move either.

Pompeo also made major disclosures about his and the CIA’s role in US President Donald Trump’s decision to strike Syria in April 2017 after the Assad regime used chemical weapons against rebel forces.

Many in Israel and elsewhere viewed Trump’s strike as having returned some credibility to US deterrence and to its adversaries taking a US threat to use force more seriously after a perception in the later years of the Obama administration that such threats were for show. Israeli officials in particular were heartened, saying they now felt the US had their back again.

Pompeo said that Trump’s strike was not a foregone conclusion.

Rather, he said that it “was clear to me that the president wanted to take action, but needed to know” three major things confirmed to a high level of certainty before he would give the order.

Trump said he needed confirmation that: the attacks came from the regime, that the attack included chemical weapons, and that they were used against civilians.

“It took a number of hours before we could give the president a substantive response... We put together a team of hundreds, worked every intelligence channel, and in short order delivered to the president the three basic facts with some certainty,” said Pompeo.

Having completed his first year as CIA director, he said his biggest accomplishments were taking more risks and being more “vicious” about stealing secrets and cutting through red tape that delayed action, even if it meant delegating his powers to approve operations to others.

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