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November 7, 2013
Notes from the Pentagon

North Korean missiles deemed a serious threat
The commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific said this week that North Korea’s KN-08 missile — a new road-mobile, intercontinental-range weapon — is a serious threat with the potential to hit the United States with a nuclear warhead.

The comments by Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear to foreign reporters on Tuesday were made as a report provided new details on the six KN-08 missiles — initially thought in 2012 to be mock-ups — that now appear to be hard-to-locate and easy-to-fire mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

“From a military planning perspective, when I see KN-08 road-mobile missiles that appear in a North Korean military parade, I am bound to take that serious, both for not only the peninsula, but also the region, as well as my own homeland, should we speculate that those missiles potentially have the technology to reach out,” Adm. Locklear said.

North Korea wants the United States to believe it has strategic missiles, and the strategic threat cannot be ignored, he said.

The regime in Pyongyang has conducted three underground nuclear tests and several long-range missile tests. But U.S. intelligence has not confirmed that North Korea is able to miniaturize a nuclear device that can be fired atop long-range missiles. North Korea is believed to have small warhead designs that were purchased in the mid-2000s through the covert Pakistani nuclear suppliers group headed by A.Q. Khan.

“Whether [the mobile missiles] are real or not, or whether they have that capability or not, the North Korea regime wants us to think they do, and so we plan for that,” the four-star admiral said.

U.S. military forces have robust missile defenses aboard Aegis-equipped warships in the region and long-range interceptors in Alaska and California. The military also is cooperating with Japan to develop regional defenses against North Korean missiles.

Adm. Locklear said military plans to defend against KN-08 attacks targeting the U.S. homeland is “my No. 1 job.” Defending allies in the region is the next priority.

“And we are committed to have the assets available to do that in a way that protects peace and prosperity in the region and our own people,” he said during an appearance at the Foreign Press Center in Washington.

The KN-08 was unveiled during a military parade in Pyongyang last year, carried atop a Chinese-made transporter-erector launcher.

U.S. officials said the launchers were exported illegally by Beijing and the transfer represents a militarily significant violation of U.N. sanctions against North Korea. China has told the United Nations that it exported the launchers as lumber haulers and did not know they would be converted to missile launchers.

North Korea so far has not conducted a test launch of a KN-08, making the missile’s operational status uncertain.

However, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff concluded earlier this year in a classified assessment that the KN-08 poses a direct threat to the United States and that it has the capability of reaching the western part of the country with a nuclear payload.

Meanwhile, a North Korea-focused think tank this week reported that recent images of the KN-08s bolster arguments that the weapons are missile systems and not mock-ups, as initially assessed by some private analysts.

The publication 38 North, produced by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, reported that new images of the six known KN-08s indicate the missiles show they are not mock-ups.

The missiles are secured properly to their mobile launchers. They have uniform fuel ports, and their nose cones appeared better machined than those shown in earlier images.

The report concludes that the KN-08 “is a developmental road-mobile ICBM of limited capability but still able to threaten the continental United States.”

A new twist on the threat of a North Korea missile strike on the United States was disclosed Monday in Seoul. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service revealed that Pyongyang is developing an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapon.

The intelligence service stated in a report to the South Korean legislature that North Korea has purchased Russian-made EMP technology for developing its own pulse arms, Agence France-Presse reported.

EMP was first discovered in the 1950s during nuclear tests in the Pacific. After large nuclear test blasts, all electronics in areas up to 1,000 miles from the point of detonation were disrupted.

In recent years, EMP simulators have evolved from test equipment — used to check the survivability of electronics on nuclear and other weapons — to offensive weapons that can create EMP waves without nuclear blasts. The United States, China, Russia and North Korea are believed to be working on EMP weapons.

Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey Jr. and Peter Pry, a former U.S. intelligence officer who took part in a congressional EMP commission, stated in a recent article that North Korea’s long-range missiles appear “capable of making a catastrophic nuclear EMP attack on the United States.”

North Korea’s 2012 satellite launch shows that a warhead-equipped satellite in polar orbit at a height of around 310 miles could be detonated over U.S. territory. The satellite bomb would be “ideal for making an EMP attack that places the [disruption] field over the entire contiguous 48 United States,” they wrote on the Family Security Matters website.

The Pentagon recently ended its widely read news clipping service known as the Early Bird, citing the availability of online electronic news outlets.

Army Col. Steve Warren, director of Pentagon press operations, stated in a memo disclosed by the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service that canceling the clipping service after 48 years was based on the availability of online news.

“Early in our careers, there was no way to know what was being written in the major newspapers unless we had physical access to those publications. The Early Bird was our source of information,” Col. Warren stated. “Today, anyone can view anything written in real time from nearly any spot on Earth.”

Larry Di Rita, former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said the cancellation is long overdue.

“It turned out to be easier to cancel outdated weapon systems and close unneeded military installations than it was to finally save the taxpayer some money by stopping the practice of one set of government employees cutting out newspaper articles for another set of government employees,” Mr. Di Rita told Inside the Ring.

Most of the articles carried by the Early Bird — read by thousands of policymakers, officials and military officers — were republished from The Washington Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers.

However, in recent years the clipping service came under criticism from some who said its selection of content was politicized under the Obama administration. Stories from conservative-oriented publications often were omitted, while material from liberal news outlets and blogs — and even stories by state-controlled Chinese media — began appearing.

For example, Inside the Ring for many years was a staple. It appeared in the Early Bird every week until July 2011, when the column was blocked from further publication.

Questioned about the matter, Harold Heilsnis, an Early Bird supervisor, denied that political pressure from the Obama administration was behind the action.

“I, as supervisor, (we are all civil servants) read it every week and make an independent call whether to include it in the Early Bird or not,” Mr. Heilsnis said in an email from 2011.

However, Mr. Heilsnis and other Pentagon officials could not explain why the Ring column that appeared every week continuously for years abruptly stopped appearing.

The Obama administration since 2009 has dispatched political aides to most public affairs offices throughout government. Many of these aides worked for President Obama’s election and re-election campaigns and are viewed by career public affairs officials as the U.S. equivalent of communist political commissars who rigidly enforce the administration’s political agenda in dealing with the press.

  • Bill Gertz can be reached at @BillGertz.

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