The 2014 “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” presented by national intelligence director James Clapper to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week had a stunning conclusion regarding Iran, as Tom Wilson and Evelyn Gordon have noted. Clapper told the committee Iran “has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons.” The “central issue” is now “its political will to do so.” In other words, Iran can produce nuclear weapons if it wants; it only needs to decide when.
The portion of the Clapper report relating to North Korea has been little reported, but it is equally stunning, and it bears on the situation involving Iran. Let’s review what happened in the last three years regarding North Korea, notwithstanding crippling sanctions and a tableful of options.
The 2011 Assessment stated “we do not know whether [North Korea] has produced nuclear weapons, but we assess it has the capability to do so.” The 2012 Assessment reported “North Korea has produced nuclear weapons.” The 2013 Assessment concluded the North Korean nuclear weapons and missile programs “pose a serious threat to the United States.” The 2014 Assessment states North Korea has expanded its uranium enrichment facility; has restarted its plutonium reactor; has begun fielding its road-mobile ICBM system; is developing long-range missile technology capable of directly threatening the United States; and is making efforts to market ballistic missiles, raising “global security concerns.”
In other words, between 2011 and 2014, North Korea went from (a) having nuclear-weapons “capability,” to (b) having nuclear weapons, to (c) having weapons and missile programs posing “a serious threat” to the U.S., to (d) starting to sell ballistic missiles across the globe. As North Korea moved steadily to nuclear-weapons capability, then weapons, then missile delivery systems, then global impact, the effect of the unfortunate message to Iran from watching what happened to North Korea (nothing) was entirely predictable.
Back in 2012, when Clapper presented the 2012 Worldwide Threat Assessment to the Senate, he had the following exchange with Sen. Lindsey Graham about Iran:
SEN. GRAHAM: Do you think they’re building these power plants for peaceful nuclear power generation purposes?
CLAPPER: That remains to be seen.
SEN. GRAHAM: You have doubt about the Iranians’ intention when it comes to making a nuclear weapon?
CLAPPER: Uh-h, I do. I, I, uh, I –
SEN. GRAHAM: You’re not so sure they’re trying to make a bomb? You doubt whether or not they are trying to create a nuclear bomb?
CLAPPER: I think they are keeping themselves in a position to make that decision, but there are certain things they have not yet done and have not done for some time.
SEN. GRAHAM: How would we know when they have made that decision?
CLAPPER: I am happy to discuss that with you in closed session.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well I guess my point is that I take a different view. I’m very convinced that they’re going down the road of developing a nuclear weapon. I can’t read anyone’s mind, but it seems logical to me that they believe that if they get a nuclear weapon they’ll become North Korea …
Clapper’s 2014 report states “Iran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” and has “the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).” Perhaps Iran is interested in a road-mobile one, or long-range missile technology capable of directly threatening the United States. The report indicates another country–one that in a different era might have been called part of an “axis of evil”–may be willing to help out, if it is not already doing so.
Meanwhile, the administration purports not to know whether Iran decided to follow the trail blazed by North Korea. We may eventually find out, however, that “Uh-h, I do. I, I, uh” was simply the least untruthful statement Clapper could make, as the slow-motion Munich proceeded.