North Korean soldiers chat as they stand guard this week on the river bank… (Associated Press )
WASHINGTON -- A U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that North Korea has developed nuclear warheads small enough to fit on a ballistic missile, a congressman disclosed Thursday.
At a House armed services committee hearing focused on the budget, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) read from what he said was an unclassified portion of a classified Defense Intelligence Agency study that states, "DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low."
Although U.S. experts believe North Korean missiles are not capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, the notion that the regime had achieved a significant leap in weapons technology would be deeply disconcerting for U.S. policymakers. It was not immediately known whether the CIA and other U.S. agencies agree with the DIA, an intelligence arm at the Pentagon.
[Updated, 6:50 p.m., April 11: James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said in a statement that the DIA view is not a formal assessment shared by all U.S. intelligence agencies.]
Lamborn said the DIA study was completed last month but the conclusion had not been made public.
The Pentagon announced last month that it plans to augment missile defense systems in Alaska in response to the North Korean threat. It also said it will deploy another antimissile system to Guam, which is in range of North Korean missiles.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to answer Lamborn’s question about the report in the public hearing.
At a different congressional hearing Thursday, James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, sought to downplay the recent tension with North Korea. He said the tension was higher in previous episodes in his career, including when the North Koreans seized a Navy spy ship in 1968 and detained its crew. They ultimately were released but the ship, the Pueblo, remains in Pyongyang.
Clapper said there is uncertainty regarding North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong Un.
"We don’t have good detail on the inner sanctum," he said. "There's no telling how he's going to behave. He impresses me as impetuous, [and] not as inhibited as his father became about taking aggressive action."
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