Korea poses ‘serious’ nuclear threat, US says

February 27, 2015

The Hill:

North Korea’s nuclear arsenal poses a “serious threat” to the United States and the East Asia region, according to a declassified U.S. intelligence report released Thursday.

“Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote in the annual worldwide threat assessment submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The document notes that North Korea launched an “unprecedented number of ballistic missiles” last year, and has worked since 2013 on restarting its nuclear program.

“We have long assessed that, in Pyongyang’s view, its nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy,” the report reads.

Joel Wit, a researcher at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said at a seminar earlier this week that North Korea could have as many as 100 nuclear arms by 2020 as it develops long-range missiles, according to Bloomberg.

A senior U.S. official focused on North Korea policy later said the United States was “deeply concerned” about advances in the isolated nation’s nuclear program.

The intelligence report comes as lawmakers eye the Obama administration’s push to close a deal over another nation’s nuclear program — Iran — and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intensifies his rhetoric opposing the deal heading into next week’s address to Congress.

North Korea took a back seat to other pressing issues such as Iran, Russia and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria during Clapper’s testimony before the Senate panel Thursday.

The assessment also lists the isolated communist country as a top cyber threat, noting its suspected responsibility for the hacking of Sony Pictures late last year for the studio producing “The Interview,” a satirical film depicting the assassination of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

While cyber threats generally are “increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication, and severity,” the report points out that “the likelihood of a catastrophic attack from any particular actor is remote at this time.”

Instead of a so-called “Cyber Armageddon,” the report predicts “an ongoing series of low-to-moderate level cyber attacks from a variety of sources over time, which will impose cumulative costs on US economic competitiveness and national security.”

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