Pompeo warns of North Korea's nuclear advances

CIA Director Mike Pompeo on June 16, 2017

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo won't give an exact timeline for how close North Korea is to perfecting its nuclear weapon capabilities but he says the US will approach the threat with a sense of urgency. 

"They are close enough now in their capabilities that from a US policy perspective we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving," Pompeo said at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank, on Thursday.  

As the US continues to collect and piece together intelligence on the expanding North Korean nuclear program, Pompeo admitted that the findings are so far imperfect. He said there is always some risk that the US might be incorrect in measuring the exact timeline of the program, but stressed that such doubts would not debilitate policy making.  

He explained that "when you're now talking about months, our capacity to understand that at a detailed level is in some sense irrelevant."

That is because Pompeo says the regime is growing more and more capable with their nuclear program. In the CIA's assessment, North Korea is closer to an advanced today than it was 5 years ago, and it will be closer in 5 months, he said, unless the international community can pressure them to stand down. 

The Trump administration has unleashed a pressure campaign against the rogue regime. They have encouraged countries to cut off diplomatic and economic ties with North Korea. Pompeo said he hopes there is "more to come" from China, North Korea's closest ally, in bolstering this pressure campaign.And he noted the positive development last month when China voted for an anti-North Korean resolution at the UN security council.

Pompeo discussed the cyber warfare capabilities of North Korea as "robust" but declared that they are not yet "catastrophic." Using cyber capabilities to defend the regime is in North Korea's interest because it is a cheap way to defend themselves. Cyber weapons, as the CIA Director pointed out, produced an effective "return on investment." 

The regime does closely watch how the US reacts, both publicly and covertly, to their cyber efforts and the US is "very mindful" of that, Pompeo said. 

Earlier this year, tensions between the US and North Korea grew worse after Otto Warmbier, an American college student detained in North Korea, died just days after he was returned to the US.