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North Korea poses serious threat, U.S. official says

By Donna Cassata and Lara Jakes

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 08:15 a.m. HST, Mar 12, 2013

WASHINGTON » An unpredictable North Korea, with its nuclear weapons and missile programs, stands as a serious threat to the United States and East Asia nations, the director of National Intelligence warned today in a sober assessment of worldwide threats.

Testifying before a Senate panel, James R. Clapper delivered the U.S. intelligence community's overview of global threats posed by terrorism, cyber attacks, weapons of mass destruction, the months-long civil war in Syria and the unsettled situation in post-Arab Spring nations.

The outlook on North Korea comes as the communist regime announced that it was "completely scrapping" the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War and has maintained peace on the peninsula for more than half a century. The Obama administration on Monday slapped new sanctions against North Korea's primary exchange bank and several senior government officials as it expressed concern about the North's "bellicose rhetoric."

"The Intelligence community has long assessed that, in Pyongyang's view, its nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige and coercive diplomacy. We do not know Pyongyang's nuclear doctrine or employment concepts," Clapper told the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Although we assess with low confidence that the North would only attempt to use nuclear weapons against U.S. forces or allies to preserve the Kim regime, we do not know what would constitute, from the North's perspective, crossing that threshold."

North Korea, led by its young leader Kim Jong Un, has defied the international community in the last three months, testing an intercontinental ballistic missile and a third nuclear bomb.

Pressed on North Korea, Clapper said he was "very concerned about the actions of the new young leader." He described the talk emanating from Pyongyang as "very belligerent."

"The rhetoric, while propaganda-laced, is an indicator of their attitude," Clapper said.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the general in charge of U.S. Strategic Command said he is "satisfied" that existing U.S. missile defenses can defend against a limited attack from North Korea.

Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler also said he is confident the country is adequately defended from a limited attack by Iran, "although we are not in the most optimum posture to do that today."

In Syria, President Bashar Assad's inability to quash the uprising in his country increases the possibility that he will use chemical weapons against his people, Clapper said.

"We assess that an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, might be prepared to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people," he said. "In addition, groups or individuals in Syria could gain access to chemical weapons-related material."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence committee, described Syria as a "massive and still growing humanitarian disaster under way with no end in sight."

The United Nations estimates more than 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war, which started two years ago against Assad's rule.

Clapper warned about the impact of automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that kicked in March 1, arguing that it will degrade the ability of the intelligence community.

The top U.S. intelligence chief said the budget cuts have jeopardized America's security and safety — and will only get worse over time. He said the reductions will shave about $4 billion from intelligence budgets. He said that amounted to about 10 percent of national intelligence programs.

Clapper said if the government is not careful, "we risk another damaging downward spiral."

The report said North Korea has exported ballistic missiles and associated materials to a number of countries, including Iran and Syria. It also displayed what appeared to be a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile and put a satellite in orbit with a launch vehicle.

"These programs demonstrate North Korea's commitment to develop long-range missile technology that could pose a direct threat to the United States, and its efforts to produce and market ballistic missiles raise broader regional and global security concerns," the report said.

Clapper testified with newly installed CIA Director John Brennan and FBI Director Robert Mueller. Feinstein pointed to successes in the war on terror — 105 terrorism-related arrests in the United States in the past four year and 438 convictions since Sept. 11, 2001.

In assessing Iran, the report stated flatly that Tehran is developing nuclear capabilities to enhance its security and influence and "give it the ability to develop a nuclear weapon." But the report stopped short of saying a decision has been made.

"We do not know if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons," the report said.

Clapper explained that in the last year, Iran has made progress in working toward producing weapons-grade uranium. However, the report said Iran "could not divert safeguarded material and produce a weapon-worth of weapons-grade uranium before this activity is discovered."

The assessment on Iran comes shortly before President Barack Obama's trip to Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that the world has until this summer — at the latest — to keep Tehran from building a bomb. The Israeli leader repeatedly has indicated Israel is willing to strike militarily to stop Iran, a step that would likely drag in the United States.

The report said terrorist threats are in transition with an increasingly decentralized global jihadist movement. The Arab Spring, however, has created a spike in threats to U.S. interests in the region "that likely will endure until political upheaval stabilizes and security forces regain their capabilities."

Associated Press writer Richard Lardner contributed to this report.

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loquaciousone wrote:
Kim Dum Dum is only a figurehead. The military old guard is the real power and their desire to hold onto that power at any cost is what makes North Korea dangerous. How can the military have any respect for Kim Dum Dum when the rest of the world is laughing AT him.
on March 12,2013 | 08:26AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
You are most likely correct. I bet he is the only world leader who spends at least 4 hours a day watching the Disney Channel with the cable descrambler China gifted when he rose to power...
on March 12,2013 | 08:50AM
1local wrote:
the real threat is china and Russia's stance on North Korea. Without their support North Korea is a small potato ready for frying.
on March 12,2013 | 09:04AM
hanalei395 wrote:
That's what N. Korea said about S. Korea. That the S. Koreans need the U.S. to defend them.
on March 12,2013 | 09:56AM
BigOpu wrote:
At least China denounces their activity also and supports the sanctions...from what the papers tell us at least.
on March 12,2013 | 10:31AM
AhiPoke wrote:
Send in our Nobel Peace Prize winner.
on March 12,2013 | 08:39AM
lee1957 wrote:
Al Gore?
on March 12,2013 | 11:39AM
serious wrote:
No Dennis Rodman, if Gore and Obama can win it???????
on March 12,2013 | 12:02PM
Publicbraddah wrote:
North Korea is doing its best to draw attention from America and its allies. I sometime wonder if this is just a ploy allow another enemy of America, Iran, to quietly ready itself for an attack on America.
on March 12,2013 | 08:54AM
pcman wrote:
North Korea is just testing our nation will to keep our promises to help defend our allies, They are also testing to see if President Obama will take the lead to head off the threats with some military action or lead from behind as he has done so for the last 4 years. If Obama choses to lead from behind, a North Korean preemtive strike on South Korea would be deemed potentially successful and would be a viable option to the North Korean leadership. If we start to pull out or bombers from Guam ans ground forces from Okinawa, they would be signals of a weakened American will and military defense. Question is will the South Koreans wait for Obama or take the lead to stop Pyongyang hoping the US will back them up. That is their question.
on March 12,2013 | 09:13AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Like the U.S. attacking Iraq, Iran (and N. Korea) thinks the U.S. will attack THEM.
on March 12,2013 | 11:00AM
hanalei395 wrote:
The N. Koreans.... still mad at the U.S. for calling them one of the three "Axis of Evil".
on March 12,2013 | 09:07AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Kim Dum Dum is still mad because he wasn't allowed to keep Dennis Rodman.
on March 12,2013 | 09:25AM
loquaciousone wrote:
A grenade in the hands of a child or an idjut is still dangerous.
on March 12,2013 | 09:10AM
stingray65 wrote:
North Korean, only talk and talk no action!! their long range missiles will only last ten minutes (10) only the air and it will be intercepted. or it be send back to any target in North korea!!
on March 12,2013 | 09:42AM
808warriorfan wrote:
Let KIm Chee III try and start something...he'll never live to see his 31st birthday...
on March 12,2013 | 10:31AM
miss_laulau wrote:
What IF North Korea has the capability to launch a weapon of mass destruction, would Hawaii be one of their targets? I would think that North Korea would want to hit Hawaii because of Pearl Harbor. For me, it's very spooky.
on March 12,2013 | 10:42AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
You really need to check out whats being tested over at Black Sands on Kauai. The technology works so there is no need to fear missile launches from this country targeting Hawaii.
on March 12,2013 | 10:59AM
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