At the start of Donald Trump’s presidency, U.S. intelligence agencies told the new administration that while North Korea had built the bomb, there was still ample time — upward of four years — to slow or stop its development of a missile capable of hitting a U.S. city with a nuclear warhead.
Its intelligence underestimated Pyongyang’s access to technology and expertise
The North’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, faced a range of troubles, they assured the new administration, giving Mr. Trump time to explore negotiations or pursue countermeasures.
One official who participated in the early policy reviews said estimates suggested Mr. Kim would be unable to strike the continental U.S. until 2020, perhaps even 2022.
North Korea mocking US intelligence
- Within months, those comforting assessments looked wildly out of date.
- At a speed that caught U.S. intelligence officials off guard, Mr. Kim rolled out new missile technology and in quick succession demonstrated ranges that could reach Guam, then the West Coast, then Washington.
Intelligence Failure of the US
The U.S.’s inability to see the North’s rapid strides over the past several months now ranks among its most significant intelligence failures, current and former officials said in recent interviews.
Senior intelligence officials acknowledged that they made two key assumptions that proved to be wrong.
- They assumed that North Korea would need about as much time to solve the rocket science as other nations did during the Cold War, underestimating its access to both advanced computer modelling and foreign expertise
- They also misjudged Mr. Kim, 33, who took control of the regime in late 2011 and made the weapons programme more of a priority than his father did.
Unclear Path ahead
The shakiness of intelligence on North Korea casts a shadow over Mr. Trump’s options going forward
- If Mr. Trump attempted to destroy the arsenal, or if the North Korean government collapsed, the challenge would be to neutralise the weapons without any launch taking place or any warhead falling into the wrong hands
- The more there are, the more difficult that task becomes.
- Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, recently argued that North Korea needs “at least two more years and several more missile and nuclear tests” to perfect a weapon that can threaten U.S. cities.
- There is still time “to start a dialogue,” he said, “in an effort to reduce current tensions and head off misunderstandings that could lead to war.”NY Times