Spy Chief Doubts Kim Will Scrap Nukes, Undercutting Trump's View

Chris Strohm
Spy Chief Doubts Kim Will Scrap Nukes, Undercutting Trump's View

(Bloomberg) -- North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear capabilities, the top U.S. intelligence official said, even as President Donald Trump expresses confidence he can persuade Kim Jong Un to disarm.

While Trump prepares for a second summit with Kim, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a report to the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday that “we continue to observe activity inconsistent with full denuclearization.”

The intelligence community “continues to assess that it is unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems, and production capabilities,” Coats said, referring to weapons of mass destruction. “North Korean leaders view nuclear arms as critical to regime survival."

In response to questions from lawmakers, Coats said the administration has “eyes wide open” in its talks with the Pyongyang regime, and “we are fully engaged in providing the essential intelligence needed.”

CIA Director Gina Haspel said “it is positive that we have managed to engage them in dialogue” but “ultimately the objective is to lessen that threat by getting them to declare that program and ultimately to dismantle that program.”

China-Russia Cooperation

Beyond North Korea, Coats said in the written summary of the intelligence community’s annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” that threats to national security will “expand and diversify in the coming year” as China and Russia “compete more intensely” with the U.S. -- and as their interests converge.

On Russia, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden asked whether U.S. intelligence agencies are at a disadvantage if they don’t know what Trump discussed with President Vladimir Putin in a one-on-one meeting at their summit in Helsinki last year. Coats called that a “sensitive issue” that he’d discuss only in a closed session later in the day.

Coats also cited strains with allies under Trump’s “America First” policies.

Without naming the president, Coats said in the report that some U.S. allies and partners are “seeking greater independence from Washington in response to their perceptions of changing U.S. policies on security and trade” and are pursuing their own new partnerships.

Cybersecurity Threats

Coats also highlighted cybersecurity threats.

“China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea increasingly use cyber operations to threaten both minds and machines in an expanding number of ways -- to steal information, to influence our citizens, or to disrupt critical infrastructure,” he said.

Coats said Moscow is preparing cyber attack capabilities that would “allow it to disrupt or damage U.S. civilian and military infrastructure during a crisis” and Iran and North Korea pose increasing threats to the U.S. government and companies.

Predicting a continuation -- and potentially an escalation -- of interference in U.S. elections, he said “our adversaries and strategic competitors probably are already looking to the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests.”

(Updates with CIA director Haspel commenting in fifth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, Larry Liebert, Joshua Gallu

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