Thursday, March 24, 2016

Intelligence debate: Does North Korea have miniatured nukes?


FOX NEWS: Some U.S. intelligence analysts now believe that North Korea “probably” possesses a miniaturized nuclear warhead, several U.S. officials told CNN.

The assessment has yet to become a formal consensus view of the U.S. government. But it reveals just how far along many in the U.S. believe the reclusive country has come to gaining a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile that could potentially strike the U.S.

As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s public rhetoric has escalated in recent weeks, concern has grown inside intelligence circles that he has made progress on several fronts.

“He is determined to prove his doubters wrong,” one U.S. official told CNN, even as uncertainty remains about how much progress he has actually made in his quest for nuclear missiles.

Recent photos showing Kim standing next to what the North Koreans claim is a miniaturized nuclear device are still being scrutinized by U.S. analysts for any indication of progress, officials said, declining to provide additional specifics.

U.S. officials who endorse the notion that Kim probably has a nuclear warhead still note that they don’t know if the device would actually work. The North Koreans believe it would.

U.S. commanders have said they assume for war planning purposes that North Korea has a functional warhead but have stopped short of outright declaring it exists.

“It’s the prudent decision on my part to assume that he has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM,” Adm. William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, recently told Congress.

But the Pentagon has taken pains to downplay the possibility.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook acknowledged that “the commanders who are responsible for these activities” are “doing the prudent, appropriate, proper” thing by assuming the North Koreans possess this capability.

But he said that this operational assumption “does not mean that they have that capability. They’ve not demonstrated that.”

At the same time, the U.S. believes North Korea is making progress in testing an advanced version of its KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile.

North Korean state media released photos of Kim inspecting a test of a new solid-fuel rocket engine, a key component of the KN-08 missile. The U.S. officials have seen pictures and for now don’t have reason to doubt their authenticity.



Experts immediately cast doubt on North Korea’s claim that it has developed a nuclear bomb small enough to fit into a warhead, saying that even if the boast is true, the country probably still has a lot of work ahead to be able to deliver it effectively.

Pyongyang splashed the news via its two main media outlets, showing leader Kim Jong Un — looking chubbier than usual in a fur hat and long coat — inspecting the silver globe that purportedly contained the bomb. A green-and-brown camouflage missile sat in the background.

The two-pronged message seemed clear: “Mess with us and this is what you’ll get,” to the outside world, and “Don’t ever question that I’m in charge,” to his populace in general and the military in particular, which reportedly has yet to completely accept the youthful grandson of the country’s founding father.

The announcement came on the second day of annual spring exercises between South Korean and U.S. forces, which have been described as the largest ever. The drills always anger Pyongyang, which calls them a rehearsal for invasion. South Korean media have fed the paranoia this year with claims that they include scenarios for destroying the North’s nuclear facilities and taking out its leadership.

It was also the latest salvo in the steadily escalating crisis on the peninsula, which started with the North’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6 and a multistage rocket launch a month later. The crisis has included high-profile shows of U.S. force, the shutting down of a joint South/North Korean factory complex, and more recently, Pyongyang threatening to turn South Korea, the U.S. mainland and U.S. bases in the Pacific into a “sea of fire.”

Yet, despite new, tougher U.N. Security Council sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the impoverished North has proceeded with them at full speed. It has said its rockets are part of a peaceful space program and claims the nuclear weapons are solely for self-defense, despite its threats to use them in a pre-emptive attack.

“The nuclear warheads have been standardized to be fit for ballistic missiles by miniaturizing them,” the official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim as telling a meeting of scientists and technicians. “This can be called true nuclear deterrent.”

Pyongyang’s claim came just hours after U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told a Pentagon briefing that the North isn’t believed to have developed the ability yet to miniaturize a nuclear bomb enough to fit into a warhead.

Welsh said the commander of U.S. Northern Command “spends a lot of time worried about how we can be sure to take it out if they ever did develop the capability to combine a long-range missile with a warhead that was operable. I don’t think they’re at that stage yet.”

Even if the North has developed a small enough bomb, other questions remain, particularly whether it could withstand the rigors of takeoff and re-entry into the atmosphere, and how accurate and reliable the missiles are, given they have been tested only twice. Devastating retaliation would be certain.

“If you can’t put it on a missile, you can’t do much with it,” said Carl Baker, a Korea expert at the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank in Honolulu. “And there’s no indication whatsoever that they’ve been able to weaponize a nuclear weapon that they could put on an intercontinental missile. Satellite launches don’t prove that. It doesn’t prove you can launch an ICBM. It doesn’t prove you can put that kind of weight on that kind of rocket.”

Baker said he sees the claim as yet another attempt by the rogue regime to claim success so “they can be part of the club.”

“They’re saying, ‘We have all this capability, so what are you going to do about it? Now you have to talk to us because we have all this capability.’ ” he said.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Terror in Brussels leaves scores dead.

(CNN)Three explosions that ripped through the Belgian capital of Brussels on Tuesday killed at least 34 people and wounded about 170 more, according to Belgian media, and raised the reality of terror once again in the heart of Europe.

"We were fearing terrorist attacks, and that has now happened," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters.

After the blasts, Belgian authorities again hit the streets looking for those tied to Tuesday's carnage and who might launch more attacks.

Citing judicial sources, RTBF reported that raids were underway midday Tuesday around Brussels, targeting people linked to the attacks. And at the international airport, a controlled explosion could be heard after troops zeroed in on a suspicious package, according to the Belgian crisis center.Belgian federal Prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw said late Tuesday morning that it was too soon to know exactly how many people died in the bombings. Yet Belgian state broadcaster RTBF, citing emergency services, reported 20 dead at the Maalbeek metro station and 14 more killed at Brussels' international airport.
While there's been no official claim of responsibility, many prominent ISIS supporters celebrated Tuesday's deadly terror attacks in Brussels on social media.

One widely circulated Twitter post among these ISIS backers featured the words, "What will be coming is worse.


Monday, March 21, 2016

North Korea fired five short-range missiles into the sea Monday

North Korea fired five short-range missiles into the sea Monday, the South Korean military says.

NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul reports that these are the latest in a string of similar launches, despite repeated calls from the international community to halt them.

"The missiles were fired near the eastern coastal city of Hamhung, and analysts say the short-range projectiles traveled about 120 miles," Elise tells our Newscast unit.

These short-range missile launches come after North Korea fired two medium-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Friday, as we reported. They're happening while the U.S. and South Korea conduct their "largest ever" joint military exercises, which North Korea calls "a rehearsal for invasion," as The Associated Press reports.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

North Korea threatens to go nuclear with pre-emptive strikes.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered nuclear weapons to be readied for use, the state-controlled Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday.

The shift in military posture would allow North Korea to carry out pre-emptive attacks, and deprive "the enemies to sleep in peace till the moment they meet their final end in their land, KCNA reported, citing a speech by the country's leader, Kim Jong-un.

KCNA continued: "The only way for defending the sovereignty of our nation and its right to existence under the present extreme situation is to bolster up nuclear force both in quality and quantity and keep balance of forces, he said, stressing the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment."

The move, announced in an article about missile tests, follows the U.N. Security Council's unanimous approval Wednesday of tough new sanctions against North Korea in response to its recent nuclear and long-range missile tests. The resolution contains the toughest set of sanctions imposed by the Security Council in more than two decades, Secretary of State John Kerry said.

The sanctions require North Korean cargo ships and aircraft to be inspected before entering and after leaving the reclusive country. They would also prohibit small arms and other conventional weapons sales to North Korea.

The Pentagon said it is aware of the reports and closely monitoring the situation in coordination with regional allies.

Gabrielle Price, the spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said: "We urge North Korea to refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric that aggravate tensions and instead focus on fulfilling its international obligations and commitments."


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