The head of CIA warned that a cash-starved and expansionist North Korea could sell its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology to other countries, including Iran, and that failure to halt such activity could trigger a global nuclear arms race.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo spoke about national security challenges at the U.S.-based think-tank the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday.
Pompeo was asked if Iran could use its existing cooperation agreements with North Korea to clandestinely advance its own nuclear weapons program without being discovered by the U.S.
Pompeo said Iranian and North Korean nuclear cooperation is “a real risk,” and “we think we have a pretty good understanding of what is taking place there today. Having said that, I am the first person to admit that intelligence organizations can miss important information.”
“These are terribly difficult problems in incredibly tight spaces, and when you are moving information, it is sometimes difficult to detect that that information has moved,” Pompeo said of such technology transfers. “So if someone asks me as the senior intelligence leader of the CIA, can you guarantee this [would be uncovered], I would say absolutely not.” Pompeo said the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies were working to prevent that.
Pompeo referred to the fear of a global nuclear arms race if North Korea or Iran achieves the ability to mass-produce nuclear weapons: “It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand that if they continue to have that nuclear weapons system… many other countries around the world will decide ‘me too,’ that I want to have one of those things that that guy has.”
North Korea has a history of clandestine military relations with Middle East states. Cooperation between the North Korean and Iranian ballistic missile programmes began in 1985 when Iran financed North Korea’s Scud-B development programme in exchange for the option to purchase production models. That investment bore dividends in 1991 when North Korea developed the 500km range Scud-C missile and sold the weapon and its technology back to Iran and Syria.
In 2007, the Israeli military bombed a suspected North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria that the U.S. believed was built for the purpose of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons.