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North Korea 'in a Race' to Put Missile Development, Nuclear Warheads Together, Intel Chiefs Agree

Missiles are paraded across Kim Il Sung Square on April 15, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

WASHINGTON — The chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Senate Intelligence Committee members today that North Korea has yet to test a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile “end-to-end,” but that Kim Jong-un’s regime was barreling toward that point.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats acknowledged that “intelligence collection on North Korea poses difficulties” given the reclusive regime’s isolation, but the country poses “an increasingly grave national security threat to the United States because of its growing missile and nuclear capabilities combined with the aggressive approach of its leader.”

“North Korea updated its constitution in 2012 to declare itself a nuclear power. And it’s officials consistently state nuclear weapons are the basis for regime survival, suggesting Kim does not intend — not intend to negotiate them away,” Coats added.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) argued “the greatest danger to the United States is North Korea.”

Coats told lawmakers he would get into greater detail about North Korea’s nuclear development in a closed hearing following the open session. “But it’s clear that we have assessed this as a very significant, potentially existential threat to the United States that has to be addressed,” he said.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the committee that “the intelligence suggests we’re going to need more to shake free this terribly challenging problem,” and that China “could do more” to rein in their ally. “And they have the capacity to do more, as well.”

DIA chief Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart emphasized that North Korea “has declared its intent.”

“It’s said it publicly, it produces propaganda images that show their intent to develop intercontinental missiles, nuclear-armed. What we’ve not seen them do is do a complete end-to-end test of an ICBM with a nuclear device,” Stewart said.

Referring to their program as “unparalleled” and “fast,” the DIA director said North Korea is “processing enough fissile material for nuclear warheads and developing a wide range of missile technology: short-, intermediate-, long-range missile technology.”

“So they’re going to put those two together at some point, but we have not seen them do that tested end-to-end: missile launch intercontinental range, [warhead] miniaturization and survival of a reentry vehicle. But they’re on that path and they’re committed.”

National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo agreed “they are in a race,” with Kim “pushing very hard on the accelerator here.”

“This whole panel is well aware of that and  we are doing everything in our power, and we can give you the details in closed, to make sure that we give you and our customers the advantage to win that race,” Cardillo added.