A recent military intelligence briefing for members of Congress states for the first time that North Korea can launch a nuclear missile at its enemies, but there's plenty of reason for skepticism about the assessment.

Put out by the Defense Intelligence Agency and publicly disclosed yesterday by a Republican congressman during a defense budget hearing, the report states: "D.I.A. assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles." That's a hurdle the Democratic People's Republic hadn't previously cleared: making nukes small enough to actually fit on the long-range intercontinental missiles that could make them useful.

However, there are a couple of big caveats to the report:

  • The next words in the report are "however the reliability will be low."
  • Director of National Intelligence James Clapper "released a statement saying that the assessment did not represent a consensus of the nation's intelligence community," according to the New York Times.
  • The Pentagon's top spokesman, George Little, said something similar, adding: "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."
  • There's the small problem of the missiles themselves, which don't go very far. The North Koreans still dream of a missile that could just reach the shores of Hawaii, going downhill, with a favorable tailwind.
  • The DIA also told America in 2002 that Iraq "probably possesses" chemical weapons, so. Yeah.

On a completely unrelated note, recent polling suggests Americans are obsessing over North Korea news and overstating the chance of war. [NY Times, Washington Post]

[Image via AP]