CIA Director Says North Korea's Missile Program Is More Advanced Than We Thought

The worst-case scenario for North Korea’s missile program is about to become a reality.

During an interview with CBS This Morning on Monday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo repeated his claim that a nuclear North Korea is only a “handful of months” away from being able to strike the US, according to a new report. Previously, the public estimates from the intelligence community were that North Korea still has at least a year to go before it would acquire the capacity to launch a nuclear strike on the Continental US with a high degree of accuracy.

Pompeo added that the US government is working diligently to extend the timeline, while his interviewer, CBS’s Norah O’Donnell pointed out that he said the same thing a few months prior. Pompeo acknowledged this: “It’s true,” he said.

“I hope to be able to say that a year from now as well,” Pompeo said.

O'DONNELL: This September Kim Jong Un detonated a sixth nuclear bomb. … Did we know that was coming?
POMPEO: Yes. Here's what we can say. We can always identify that the program is continuing. … We'll never know the exact nature of what's taking place. We'll never know the exact moment that they're going to continue. But the core risk that the policymakers needed to know was that North Korea's nuclear weapons program is continuing to expand, advance, become more powerful, more capable, more reliable. Each of those things had been shared with policymakers.
O'DONNELL: So to be clear, how close is Kim Jong Un to being able to deliver a nuclear attack to the territorial United States?
POMPEO: A handful of months.

O'DONNELL: But correct me if I'm wrong. I do believe you have used that phrase, more than six months ago, you said a handful of months –

POMPEO: It's true. I hope to be able to say it a year from now as well. … The United States government is working diligently to extend that timeline.

Pompeo's comments followed North Korea’s November launch of its Hwasong 15 intercontinental ballistic missile, its largest and most sophisticated yet. Kim claimed the missile could hit anywhere on the continental US.

As the New York Post explains, US officials dispute that, suggesting the rocket may only make it to the West Coast when loaded down with a nuclear device, as opposed to dummy payloads used in test launches. The missile’s actual range is less clear, because the nation test fired it nearly straight up rather than horizontally.

There is also the question of whether a genuine warhead could withstand the blistering heat that it would be subject to upon re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.

Meanwhile, anxiety over a potential missile strike has been exacerbated by a false alarm missile alert that provoked a mass panic in the state of Hawaii earlier this month.