North Korea has accused the United States of “trying to drive the situation of the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war” after the UN Security Council unanimously adopted new sanctions on August 5th in response to Pyongyang’s long-range ballistic missile tests in July. Speaking at the ASEAN Regional Forum, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Pyongyang would “teach the US a severe lesson” if it used military force against North Korea. As I am writing on 8 August President Trump forcefully announced “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen… he has been very threatening beyond a normal statement. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” In apparent response to this Presidential ultimatum, a spokesman for the Korean People’s Army issued a statement carried by the regime’s state-run KCNA news agency warning that North Korea is “seriously reviewing” a plan to strike the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam with missiles. Meanwhile there are leaked intelligence reports that North Korea is loading anti-ship missiles aboard its coastal defense patrol boats and that it has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead capable of being mated with its ballistic missiles. While these dueling threats of open warfare unless the other side backs down are meant to be red lines, they could have the positive effect of energizing China to effectively pressure North Korea’s “Boy Leader” Kim Jong Un to at least suspend nuclear weapons and ballistic missile testing before rhetoric devolves into large scale open conflict.
Nobody is asking me but before unleashing “fire and fury” on North Korea I would deploy a Yokosuka-based Aegis SM3 armed ship along with a JMSDF Aegis cruiser to the sea of Japan, protected by ROK destroyers and Tac Air backed with CAP from Kadena or a CVN, to shoot down any ballistic missiles launched from North Korea. After these forces are on station the US, Japan, ROK should explain in a joint statement that this is necessary because we cannot know whether a North Korea ballistic missile launch is a test or is nuclear armed and headed to any of these three countries. If Russia or China feel compelled to demarche this action we should tell them to lean on their little fat friend in Pyongyang and we will stand down. Since North Korea is adamant about not negotiating away its missiles or nuclear weapons, the US and its allies should move immediately to neutralize Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction with our operational missile defense capabilities. The point here is to be completely defensive, but responsive to the threat being presented. If this needs to be gisted into a tweet I would suggest, “If NK wants to test its missiles we will ensure their failure!”
On the subject of leaks, Attorney General (AG) Sessions and Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Coats announced on August 3rd that considerable resources are being allocated to investigating leaks of classified material, identifying the leakers, and pursuing prosecution where warranted. While most Americans don’t seem to care, stopping leaks related to national security has become job one for the Justice Department assisted by the Office of the DNI (ODNI). There is, however, considerable partisan fueled debate about whether the spike in leaks since the November elections are motivated by those unhappy with the results of the 2016 presidential election or are not leaks at all but rather legitimate “whistleblowing” about wrongdoing or First Amendment protected criticisms of presidential policies and actions.
As I listened to the AG and DNI warn leakers in stern words such as “don’t do it” and “we will catch you” I was wondering why they thought they could be any more successful than previous administrations at stemming leaks. I particularly had in mind Nixon’s “Plumber’s Squad”, which was not constrained by the law or the Constitution and their inability to identify “Deep Throat” whose leaks would lead to the impeachment of the President. I am all for prosecuting leakers, but that’s at the back end of the process after sensitive government information has already been made public. Besides deterrence through more investigative resources and rigorous prosecution, I hope the AG and DNI are also considering using technology more effectively to prevent classified information from being leaked. Data tagging, managing access privileges, policy enforcement software, and automated information monitoring and auditing can all be used on the front end by government agencies with information to protect to thwart leaking before it happens.
In my experience today’s leaks are no more pervasive, widespread, or persistent then they have been over the course of my Washington experience dating back to the Watergate Days of 1972. What is different and pernicious now is that many of the leaks during the Trump Administration seem aimed at deligimatizing the 2016 elections because self-appointed guardians of US national security believe they have the right to publicly question electoral judgment of the American people. Defending the constitution, or just being a good citizen, means accepting the results of elections.
The current crisis with North Korea certainly inflames the dangers resulting from the unauthorized disclosures of national security information to the degree that they divide the American body politic, compromise our allies, and confuse our adversaries.
That’s what I think; what do you think?