(CNN) — A study just completed by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency says North Korea may have nuclear weapons that could be delivered by ballistic missiles, a congressman said Thursday.
The revelation came from Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
“Quoting from the unclassified portion, which I believe has not yet been made public, they say, quote, ‘DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivering by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low.’” Lamborn told Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who was testifying before the committee.
Lamborn asked Dempsey whether he agreed with the assessment. Dempsey appeared to be caught off guard.
U.S. officials and independent experts say North Korea appears to have taken unusual steps to conceal details about the nuclear weapon it tested in February, fuelingsuspicions that its scientists shifted to a bomb design that uses highly enriched uranium as the core.
At least two separate analyses of the Feb. 12 detonation confirmed that the effects of the blast were remarkably well contained, with few radioactive traces escaping into the atmosphere — where they could be detected — according to U.S. officials and weapons experts who have studied the data.
U.S. officials anticipated the test and monitored it closely for clues about the composition of the bomb, which was the third detonated by North Korea since 2006. The first two devices were thought to have used plutonium extracted from a dwindling stockpile of the fissile material that North Korea developed in the late 1990s.
A successful test of a uranium-based bomb would confirm that Pyongyang has achieved a second pathway to nuclear weapons, using its plentiful supply of natural uranium and new enrichment technology. A device based on highly enriched uranium, HEU, also would deepen concerns about cooperation between the hermetic regime and Iran.
North Korea’s belligerent threats in recent weeks have increased concerns among American and South Korean officials and ratcheted up worries about the level of progress made on long-range missiles and nuclear weapons by Pyongyang.
A U.S. defense contractor in Hawaii has been arrested on charges of passing national defense secrets, including classified information about nuclear weapons, to a Chinese woman with whom he was romantically involved, authorities said on Monday.
Benjamin Pierce Bishop, 59, a former U.S. Army officer who works as a civilian employee of a defense contractor at U.S. Pacific Command in Oahu was arrested on Friday and made his first appearance in federal court on Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Hawaii said in a news release.
He is charged with one count of willfully communicating national defense information to a person not entitled to receive it, and one count of unlawfully retaining documents related to national defense. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that “purchase orders obtained by nuclear researchers show an attempt by Iranian agents to buy 100,000 … ring-shaped magnets” and that such “highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines … [are] a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program.” As evidence, the Post’s Joby Warrick cited a report authored by David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security PDF (ISIS); dated Feb. 13, the report says that an Iranian firm, Jahan Tech Rooyan Pars Co., made an inquiry “posted on a Chinese commercial website … to buy 100,000 ring magnets.” As Warrick goes on to explain: “it is unclear whether the attempt succeeded.”
There are serious deficiencies in both the Washington Post story and the assertions in the ISIS report. Given that issues of war and peace may hang on the veracity of such claims, the assertions warrant careful scrutiny.
The magnets in question have many uses besides centrifuges and are not only, as Warrick describes them, “highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines.” Such ceramic ring magnets are everyday items and have been used in loudspeakers, for example, for more than half a century. The ISIS report neglects to explain the many other applications for such ceramic ring magnets and jumps to the conclusion that the inquiry is surely related to Iran’s nuclear program. Why ISIS does not offer alternate and more plausible applications of these unspecialized magnets is a puzzle. Such magnets are used in a variety of electronic equipment. For instance, one vendor outlines some of the various possible uses in speakers, direct current brushless motors, and magnetic resonance imaging equipment.
North Korea, poised to conduct a nuclear test any day now, has posted a video on YouTube depicting a US city resembling New York engulfed in flames after an apparent missile attack.
The footage was uploaded Saturday by the North’s official website, Uriminzokkiri, which distributes news and propaganda from the state media.
The video is shot as a dream sequence, with a young man seeing himself on board a North Korean space shuttle launched into orbit by the same type of rocket Pyongyang successfully tested in December.
As the shuttle circles the globe — to the tune of “We Are the World” — the video zooms in on countries below, including a joyfully re-unified Korea.
In contrast, the focus then switches to a city — shrouded in the US flag — under apparent missile attack with its skyscrapers, including what appears to be the Empire State Building, either on fire or in ruins.
“Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing,” runs the caption across the screen.
“It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire started by itself,” it added.
The video ends with the young man concluding that his dream will “surely come true”.
“Despite all kinds of attempts by imperialists to isolate and crush us… never will anyone be able to stop the people marching toward a final victory,” it said.
The North is expected to conduct its nuclear test as a defiant response to UN sanctions imposed after its December rocket launch.
A CHINESE military officer has raised the spectre of nuclear weapons and warned Australia not to side with the United States and Japan as a territorial dispute in the East China Sea continues to escalate.Liu Mingfu.
Senior Colonel Liu Mingfu, of the National Defence University, blamed America’s ”orchestration” and Japan’s ”militarism” for rising tensions over disputed islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
”America is the global tiger and Japan is Asia’s wolf and both are now madly biting China,” Colonel Liu said. ”Of all the animals, Chinese people hate the wolf the most.”
China was a peaceful nation but it would fight to the death if seriously attacked, he said.
The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board announces its 2013 decision to keep in place the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock: It will remain at five minutes to midnight. In this open letter to US President Barack Obama, the Board presents its views on the key issues that affected its decision and provides the president with recommendations to consider in 2013 and throughout his second term.
Editor’s note: Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists subsequently created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero), to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains.
January 14, 2013
Dear President Obama,
2012 was a year in which the problems of the world pressed forward, but too many of its citizens stood back. In the US elections the focus was “the economy, stupid,” with barely a word about the severe long-term trends that threaten the population’s well-being to a far greater extent: climate change, the continuing menace of nuclear oblivion, and the vulnerabilities of the world’s energy sources. 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States, marked by devastating drought and brutal storms. These extreme events are exactly what climate models predict for an atmosphere overburdened with greenhouse gases. 2012 was a year of unrealized opportunity to reduce nuclear stockpiles, to lower the immediacy of destruction from missiles on alert, and to control the spread of fissile materials and keep nuclear terrorism at bay. 2012 was a year in which — one year after the partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station — the Japanese nation continued to be at the earliest stages of what will be a costly and long recovery.
The stasis of 2012 convinces us, the Science and Security Board, to keep the hands of the Doomsday Clock in place.
Mr. President, we see 2013 as a year for vision and engagement. We know that decisive action can make the world safer. Humanity awaits the US leadership that can secure a future free of nuclear weapons. US action can induce the world’s nations to negotiate international agreements to avert the worst calamities of climate change. We turn to you, Mr. President, to lead us toward a safer world and to help us turn back the hands of the Doomsday Clock.
It remains five minutes to midnight.
Nuclear weapons. Mr. President, we applaud the steps your administration has already taken: ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), holding to firm account potential violators of the keystone Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), strengthening the global nuclear security regime, and reducing the opportunities and chances of success for terrorists to get hold of fissile material. We are glad that your commitment to the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty — for which we are confident you will seek Senate approval — has not wavered.
This morning, during an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Republican Senator and rising party star Kelly Ayotte (NH) cited Iranian propaganda in explaining her opposition to President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
“I have not made up my mind,” Ayotte began, before warning that Hagel has not expressed sufficient commitment to using military force against Iran if it develops nuclear weapons. She then pointed to Iranian propaganda, noting that the country “reacted favorably” to his nomination:
AYOTTE: Iran, this week, kind of reacted favorably somewhat. There were statements that were favorable to his nomination, in fact, they said they were hopeful that with his nomination, they hoped that we would change our policies. What I want to make sure is that Iran is actually not hopeful, but they are fearful as a result of our nominee from a Secretary of Defense perspective, because I think that will cause them to stop marching toward acquiring a nuclear weapon, not hope that we’ll change our policies, they need to change their policies.
On Tuesday, the Iranians responded to the Hagel nomination and used it to take a backhanded slap at the United States, saying, “We hope there will be practical changes in American foreign policy and that Washington becomes respectful of the rights of nations.” Unfortunately, neo-conservatives — desperate to derail Hagel — jumped on the propaganda from Iran’s foreign ministry to make their case.
Five South Korean university students filed into a small conference room in downtown Seoul to discuss North Korea and related issues. Each of them casually placed a smartphone on the table. Two pulled earbuds out as they entered the room. And then, with no hesitation at all, they made plain their view that they had no use for the United States troops who have been based in their country for more than half a century.
As Seungwon Choi, a political science major, put it: “After all these years, we are still under the US. We can’t make decisions ourselves. We have to reassume operational control and sovereignty.”
South Korea is undergoing a transformative generational change—one that has strong implications for the US. The younger generation, living a comfortable life in a first-world state, cares little about the threat posed by North Korea, which has been the dominant theme of South Korean life since statehood in 1948. The North is a dilemma of their grandparents’ generation that, to them, is no longer relevant.
North Korea remains painfully backward as its neighbors experience booming economies. But the Kim family dynasty’s grip on the country is loosening. That’s why China and others in East Asia are planning for a North Korean future that involves painful and possibly chaotic change—and why the US needs to as well.
As Park Ji-Eun, an undergraduate at Yonsei University in Seoul, said about North Korea, “We’re just not affected by it.”
Given that Park’s view is widespread among the under-thirty set, which makes up at least one-quarter of the population, the South Korean government is clearly concerned.
“Young people in Korea are not really interested in North Korea,” a senior minister in the Ministry of Unification (who declined to be further identified) acknowledged. “They have their IT devices, their cars and comfortable lives. They believe in the old policy, co-existence. But then the North developed nuclear weapons, so we have to educate them now that co-existence won’t work. We have to inspire them” to care.
For this minister and other Korean officials, the problem is that South Korea has grown into a prosperous, modern, successful state whose largest exports are semiconductors, cell phones, and automobiles. Annual per capita income is about $32,000, eighteen times higher than in the North.