North Korea appears to have restarted a Soviet-era plutonium production reactor, the top U.S. intelligence official told lawmakers on Wednesday.
Findings also suggest that the isolated state is “expanding the size” of a nearby uranium-enrichment centrifuge plant, National Intelligence Director James Clapper told the Senate intelligence committee in a yearly threat assessment. The apparent moves appeared to fall in line with North Korea’s stated intention to expand operations for generating nuclear-bomb fuel, and with independent reports of new activities at its Yongbyon nuclear complex over the last year.
“We have long assessed that, in Pyongyang’s view, its nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige and coercive diplomacy,” Clapper stated in prepared comments. “We do not know Pyongyang’s nuclear doctrine or employment concepts.”
Surveillance images of Yongbyon from last summer showed steam rising from a facility near North Korea’s graphite-moderated reactor, suggesting the plutonium site had relaunched, according to a September analysis by the expert website “38 North.”
The likely expansion of North Korea’s uranium-centrifuge plant came to light in an August analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, a think tank in Washington. The organization pointed to further activity near the site in a December report, but said the objectives of the work could not “conclusively be identified.”
Separately, Clapper called attention to North Korea’s focus on “developing long-range missile technology that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States.”
Pyongyang appears to have “already taken initial steps” to deploy its KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile, though the weapon “remains untested,” he said in the report.
In an October analysis of satellite photos, independent experts said North Korea’s Dongchang-ri missile complex appeared to be hosting construction of a new mobile-missile launch pad capable of test-firing the KN-08.
Clapper said North Korea has “displayed” the weapon on two occasions. Independent observers, though, judge past showings of the weapon to have involved replicas of growing sophistication.
What We're Following See More »
As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."
President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.
In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."
"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."