North Korea’s apparently rapid progress last year in both its nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs raises entirely legitimate concerns about U.S. intelligence capabilities. The New York Times recently reported that, as the Obama administration ended, intelligence-community analysts estimated that Pyongyang was over four years away from mastering the complex science and technology necessary to deliver thermonuclear weapons on targets within the continental United States.
Then, seemingly overnight, North Korea was igniting thermonuclear weapons and testing missiles that could hit the lower 48. The Times calls this an intelligence failure, certainly a serious matter. But the real reason was actually much worse.
Evidence in the Times report indicates that President Obama’s team dangerously politicized intelligence gathering and analysis, as senior officials strove to support their preconceived notions of the North’s true progress.
Throughout his presidency, Obama pursued a North Korea policy called “strategic patience,” which was in fact a synonym for doing nothing. As long as intelligence agencies assessed that Pyongyang’s threat was remote, conveniently fitting Obama’s predilection to do nothing, he could contend there was no basis for more robust measures against the North’s nuclear program.