CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Jan. 23 that North Korea is moving "ever closer" to putting Americans at risk and that he believes leader Kim Jong Un won't rest until he's able to threaten multiple nuclear attacks against the U.S. at the same time.
"North Korea is ever closer to being able to hold America at risk," Pompeo said at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank in Washington. "I want everyone to understand that we are working diligently to make sure that, a year from now, I can still tell you that they are several months away from having that capacity."
Speaking after one year on the job, Pompeo also said the CIA believes Kim would not only use nuclear weapons to stay in power, but to threaten to reunify the divided Korean Peninsula under his totalitarian regime. The quest for reunification is disputed by some North Korean experts who see Kim's nuclear program as primarily a means of retaining power and don't think he would threaten or forcibly try to take over South Korea.
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Pompeo said North Korea's nuclear weapons program has developed at a "very rapid clip," but that Kim is hoping for an arsenal of nuclear weapons — "not one, not a showpiece, not something to drive on a parade route."
He wants the ability to deliver nuclear weapons from multiple missiles fired simultaneously. "That increases the risk to America," Pompeo said. It's unclear how well the United States could defend against multiple missiles fired from North Korea at the same time.
Pompeo also warned that North Korea could sell nuclear-weapon and ballistic-missile technology and research to other countries, including Iran, which could set off a nuclear arms race.
Asked whether Iran could use its existing agreements with Pyongyang to advance its own nuclear-weapons program, Pompeo called it "a real risk" and admitted that the CIA could miss such transfers of information. "So if someone asks me as the senior intelligence leader of the CIA, can you guarantee this [would be uncovered], I would say absolutely not."
Despite his warning, Pompeo doesn't think a North Korean attack on the United States is imminent. He said the Trump administration is "laser-focused" on achieving a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff.
Americans should know that it is working to prepare a series of options so the president has the "full range of possibilities" to address the threat.
He wouldn't address the question of whether there are military options available to the US that don't risk an escalation into nuclear war with North Korea.
"There is much effort all across the U.S. government to ensure that Americans don't have to feel at risk," Pompeo said.
"We saw what happened in Hawaii. It is an imperative — an American, national imperative — that we as an intelligence agency deliver the information to our senior leaders such that they can resolve this issue in a way that works for the American people."
Earlier this month, a false alarm that a ballistic missile was headed for Hawaii sent the islands into a panic, with people abandoning cars and preparing to flee their homes until officials said the cellphone alert was a mistake.