CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the BBC that North Korea will be able to launch nuclear strikes against the United States within a few months.
“With respect to our understanding of the program, I think that we, collectively, the United States and our intelligence partners around the world, have developed a clear understanding of [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un’s capability,” Pompeo said in the interview published on Tuesday.
“We talk about him having the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon to the United States in a matter of a handful of months,” he added.
Pompeo’s been doing this for a while now. Attempts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program have been going on for decades, with the administration of President Donald Trump ratcheting up tensions with the regime since the summer.
Despite multiple rounds of sanctions, North Korea has tested several ballistic missiles and detonated an underground nuclear device in September.
Pompeo repeated the “handful of months” line to CBS’s Norah O’Donnell last week, and when she called him out on it, Pompeo made the fact that he’d been making false, alarmist claims about an imminent attack on the U.S. seem like a good thing:
“It’s true. I hope to be able to say it a year from now as well. … The United States government is working diligently to extend that timeline,” said Pompeo, without elaborating how, exactly, the Trump administration has extended that timeline.
Experts have largely said that while the North Koreans are continuing to make gains in their weapons program, there’s little consensus about any kind of exact timeline for progress.
Siegfried Hecker, director emeritus of the Los Alamos National Laboratory told The Washington Post in August that “Overselling [the threat] is particularly dangerous,” and that “The real threat is we’re going to stumble into a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.” Heckler, it’s worth noting, is among the few Americans who have inspected North Korea’s weapons programs and visited the country seven times between 2004 and 2010.
Still, despite being called out by O’Donnell, Pompeo stayed on message the very next day, when he made an appearance at conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute and hit that same talking point again:
I said there was a handful of months. I had said the same thing several months before that. I want everyone to understand that we are working diligently to make sure that a year from now I can still tell you they are several months away from having that capacity.
Pompeo, who established a Korea Mission Center in May (the Langley-based center focuses on “addressing the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea”) was at one point reported to be Trump’s choice to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, following reports in October that Tillerson had called Trump “a moron.”
The White House did not deny these reports — in The Washington Post and the New York Times — although Trump did call them “Fake news:”
The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon – FAKE NEWS! He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!https://t.co/FrqiPLFJ1E
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 1, 2017
Pompeo, who has been saying that North Korea could launch nuclear missiles at the U.S. mainland at any moment, could still replace Tillerson, who is so desperate for diplomatic talks with Pyongyang that he said he’d show up just to talk about the weather.