On Thursday, a “mistakenly declassified” sentence from a classified Pentagon report on North Korea’s nuclear program was accidentally read at an open hearing on Capitol Hill. During a hearing by the House Armed Services Committee discussing the Pentagon's budget, Rep. David Lamborn (R-Colo.) read the unclassified sentence from the conclusion of the otherwise classified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA):
"DIA assess with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles, however, the reliability will be low.”
Moreover, the report has implications for the United States’ course of action with Iran in terms of nuclear threat. According to WikiLeaks, North Korea has shared some of its nuclear technology with Iran, which can also pose a threat to the United States down the line. If the report is true, and North Korea does have nuclear weapons, it’s possible that Iran is not far behind.
A defense official told CNN that "several of us here in the Pentagon were shocked by hearing that assessment read aloud in an open hearing.” While it’s not uncommon to have different paragraphs within a report classified at different levels, it’s unusual for a single sentence, that to a sentence at the conclusion of a report, to be unclassified.
Despite the implications of the report in terms of information security and the threat of nuclear attack, the Pentagon tried to downplay the importance of the conclusion of the report.
“It would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed, or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage,” read a written statement by Pentagon spokesman George Little. “The United States continues to closely monitor the North Korean nuclear program and calls upon North Korea to honor its international obligations.”
However, the reaction of surprise from other Pentagon and defense officials at the disclosure of this document, and the passage that has been read from the DIA report indicates that the United States does believe (though with “moderate confidence”) that North Korea has tested and developed a competent nuclear program, one that can pose a threat to our national security in the future on various fronts. The question is, when?