WASHINGTON — North Korea is months away from having the capability of striking the U.S. with a nuclear-tipped missile and the U.S. is concerned that North Korea leader Kim Jong Un does not fully understand that America will use force to stop him, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.
“We’re taking the real-world actions that we think will make unmistakable to Kim Jong Un that we are intent on denuclearization,” Pompeo said in an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute. “We’re counting on the fact that he’ll see it.”
Pompeo said U.S. officials are concerned that Kim “may not be getting really good, accurate information” because of fears his senior advisors have of delivering him bad news. “It’s not a healthy thing,” he said in his rare public comments.
He said that North Korea is “ever closer to being able to hold America at risk” and that the U.S. is “working diligently to make sure that, a year from now” he can still say North Korea lacks the capability to hit the U.S mainland.
“They have moved at a very rapid clip, make no mistake about it,” Pompeo said. “Their testing capacity has improved and the frequency with which they have tests that are materially successful has also improved.”
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The Pentagon believes that America’s current missile defenses can defend the homeland against a limited attack from North Korea, despite critics who believe the ground-based system has yet to prove its reliability in tests. On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that Robert Behler, the Pentagon’s new director of operational testing, said the $36 billion system “ ‘demonstrated the capability to defend the U.S. homeland from a small number’ of intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles launched ‘with simple countermeasures’.”
Pompeo said that it is unlikely that Kim with be happy with a single successful test.
“The logical next step would be to develop an arsenal of weapons,” he said. “That is, not one, not a show-piece, not something to drive on a parade route on Feb. 8, but rather the capacity to deliver … multiple firings of these missiles simultaneously. And that increases the risk to Americans.”
U.S. officials see Kim as a “rational actor” intent on hold power and intimidating the world not to mess with him — including using these “tool sets” to put pressure on what is his ultimate goal: the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
“It is more than just regime preservation,” Pompeo said. “Coercive is perhaps the best way to think about how Kim Jong Un is prepared to potentially use these weapons.
“That’s what Kim Jong Un is driving for. He is trying to put in our mind the reality that he can deliver that pain to the United States of America. And our mission is to make the day that he can do that as far off as possible.”
Pompeo said he will “leave to others to address the capacity or the wisdom of a preemptive strike.
“From an intelligence perspective, we’re trying to ensure that all various options that the president might want to consider are fully informed, that we understand what’s really going on and the risks associated with each of those decisions as best we can identify them for him,” he said.
Pompeo said he is preparing the CIA to take more risks in its efforts to gather the best intelligence.
“If we’re going to do it right, we’re going to have failed missions,” he said. “It is inevitable, almost by definition. If you move out on the risk profile, you will increase the number of times you will have a failure. We’re going to do that. And we’re going to make sure that people aren’t punished for that, but they are rather recognized for having been professional.”