Monday, April 15, 2013

How did DIA deduce DPRK was nuclear ready? US secretly recovered their missile.

THE DAILY BEAST: When North Korean engineers launched a satellite into space December 12, it seemed like business as usual, with the familiar cycle of condemnations from the West and statements of defiance from the Hermit Kingdom. But that launch also led many U.S. intelligence analysts to assess that Pyongyang possessed the ability to miniaturize the components necessary to yield a nuclear explosion for a crude warhead that would sit atop a ballistic missile.

After the North Korean launch, U.S. Navy ships managed to recover the front section of the rocket used in it, according to three U.S. officials who work closely on North Korean proliferation. That part of the rocket in turn provided useful clues about North Korean warhead design, should the next payload be a warhead rather than a satellite.

The same basic engineering and science needed to launch a satellite into space is also used in the multistage rockets known as intercontinental ballistic missiles. The front of the satellite rocket, according to three U.S. officials who work closely on North Korean proliferation, gave tangible proof that North Korea was building the missile’s cone at dimensions for a nuclear warhead, durable enough to be placed on a long-range missile that could reenter the earth’s atmosphere from space.

“Having access to the missile front was a critical insight we had not had before,” one U.S. nonproliferation official tells The Daily Beast. “I have seen a lot of drawings, but we had not seen the piece of that missile at that time.” This official continues: “We looked at the wreckage from the launch and we put it together with other kinds of intelligence and came to this judgment that they had figured out the warhead piece.”

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) released a classified assessment last month saying that it now has “moderate confidence” that the “North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles however the reliability will be low,” South Korea has provided additional intelligence bolstering this conclusion, according to U.S. officials.

But neither Little nor Clapper disputed the basic judgment that North Korea could likely build a nuclear warhead of low reliability. While the DIA assessment does not represent the view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, the recovered satellite rocket helped move CIA analysts away from their skepticism about North Korea’s ability to build a nuclear warhead as well. “The DIA was always more forward leaning on this,” one U.S. official said. “The CIA was always extremely cautious on this. The doubters in the CIA finally found some common ground with DIA when we did the recovery.” (The CIA declined to comment.)

Intelligence suggesting North Korea could design a nuclear warhead has been building for many years. A.Q. Khan, the man considered to be the father of the Pakistani nuclear program, for example, has said in interviews and correspondence that in 1999 on a visit to North Korea, he was shown boxes of components for three finished nuclear warheads that could be assembled within an hour.

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