An unclassified Pentagon report not yet released to the public suggests that North Korea can arm missiles with nuclear warheads, a lawmaker revealed Thursday.
That was the bombshell out of a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, the nation’s top military officer, appeared caught off-guard. The Pentagon has in recent days sought to strike a balance betweenwords of warning to the North and attempts to calm the situation. General Dempsey’s reaction suggested that he was not pleased to have the DIA assessment made public, as it could further stoke anxieties over what is already a enormously tense international standoff.
Representative Lamborn read from the report toward the end of a defense budget hearing.
“They say, ‘DIA assess with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low.’ General, would you agree with that assessment by DIA?” he asked
“I can’t touch that one,” Dempsey answered.
The problem was that the report hasn’t been released, he said. “Some of it’s classified, some of it’s unclassified.”
Lamborn tried asking the question again, heedless of the sensitivity of the topic. “This is public; this is unclassified, so I can make it public.”
“And your question is do I agree with the DIA’s assessment?” Dempsey repeated.
“Yes,” Lamborn responded.
“Well,” Dempsey answered, “You said it’s not publicly released, so I choose not to comment on it.”
Only a day ago, Dempsey told reporters during a Pentagon briefing that “the proximity of the North Koreans to achieving a miniaturization of a nuclear device on a ballistic missile … is a classified matter.”
If North Korea does have nuclear-armed missiles, it could strike South Korea, Japan, or US forces in Japan. It could perhaps also hit Guam, but Hawaii and the mainland US are out of the North’s missile range, according to US intelligence estimates.
North Korea is expected to launch a missile soon as a show of defiance against the West. The administration said Thursday there is no indication that the missiles readied for launch are nuclear-armed, media reports said.
The exchange between Lamborn and Dempsey was not the only enlightening information about North Korea to emerge from Capitol HIll Thursday. At a different hearing, senior US intelligence officials were sharing some of the most telling details yet to emerge about the personality and motivations of the North’s new young leader, Kim Jong-un.
Anna Mulrine, Staff writer / April 11, 2013 / The Christian Science Monitor