North Korea missile test demonstrates limits of U.S. intelligence

WASHINGTON -- The latest North Korea missile test failed nine minutes into flight, making it only 40 miles before pinwheeling into the sea. But it also exposed gaps in U.S. intelligence.

Initially thought to be a new two-stage solid fuel missile, it turned out to be an old single-stage liquid fuel missile. 

Just Tuesday, Gen. John Hyten, the man in charge of shooting down any incoming missile, told Congress he’s never sure what’s coming next from North Korea.

“These are very concerning moments to me because we’re not sure, every time they launch we’re not sure if this is a threat missile or not,” Hyten said.

This missile was not a threat, but coming just days before President Trump meets with China’s President Xi it did seem to carry a message: Nothing the two presidents do will stop North Korea from developing a nuclear arsenal.

The U.S. responded with a cryptic message of its own. Instead of the usual condemnation of calling it a provocative act in violation of U.N. resolutions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said simply, “the United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”

It was a signal the old rules of dealing with North Korea -- a policy known as “strategic patience” -- are out the window.

The greatest threat would come from an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States, and Hyten testified the North Koreans are closing in on one.

“They already have the capability to deploy an intercontinental ballistic missile. The only question is when they are going to be able to mate them with a nuclear weapon,” he said.

North Korea’s next step could be another underground nuclear test. U.S. intelligence has been monitoring the site where previous tests have been conducted and is warning another one could come at any time.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.