North Korea Craves Attention with Nuclear Tests

James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, spoke about his career and threats facing the United States at the Elliott School.

James Clapper
James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, speaks to students about the issues facing the intelligence community at the Elliott School of International Affairs. (Logan Werlinger/ GW Today)
September 27, 2017

By Kristen Mitchell

The notion that North Korea would stop development of its nuclear weapons program to negotiate with the United States and South Korea is “crazy,” said James Clapper, former director of national intelligence.

North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, is not begging for war as some U.S. officials have said, according to Mr. Clapper. Nuclear weapons—or at least the optic of having usable nuclear weapons—is life insurance for North Korea in facing a better-equipped, formidable South Korean military, Mr. Clapper said.

“It doesn’t matter if they work, they created what they want, which is deterrence and attention. They crave the attention,” he said. “They want the recognition. They want to be included as that 10th nuclear country and all that demands.”

The United States needs to recognize this and focus on negotiating conditions for how North Korea tests its nuclear capabilities, Mr. Clapper said. This could help improve American relationships in the region, he said.

“As far as denuclearizing, I’m afraid that train left the station a long time ago,” he said.

Mr. Clapper spoke at the Elliott School of International Affairs Tuesday about his career in intelligence and the most significant threats facing the country. He served as director of national intelligence from 2010 to January 2017 and was the principal intelligence adviser to President Barack Obama. He had a long intelligence career in and outside of the government.

Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is a profound threat to the American political process, he said. Evidence shows the Russians were “wildly successful” in creating division with little investment, Mr. Clapper said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to sow discontent in the United States by interfering in the election process and was driven by a deep disdain for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Regardless of political party, Russian interference is something all Americans should be concerned about, Mr. Clapper said.

“This is what the American public needs to be concerned about because this is going to continue. The Russians don’t care, by the way, the next time they’ll stick it to the Republicans, they don’t care,” he said.

The multiple ongoing investigations to determine whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia will run their course, Mr. Clapper said. He is concerned Americans are not alert to the fact that Russia will likely employ the same tactics in future elections as well. The evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 race is “overwhelming,” he said.

The intelligence community does a complicated balancing act between respecting citizen privacy and providing security, Mr. Clapper said. This became more complicated after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden released classified government documents in 2013 about government surveillance of civilians, he said.

Americans expect intelligence collection to be timely and relevant. They also expect government agencies to be able to thwart bad actors before they commit acts of terrorism. The public should understand that a certain level of sacrifice is critical for the common good. It is the same reason people stop at stop signs and red lights, he said.

“What the American public expects from the intelligence community is to provide timely, accurate, relevant and anticipatory intelligence all the time. Don’t miss, no mistakes. But do that in such a way that there is no risk and do it in such a way that if a foreign government finds out about it they won’t be mad,” Mr. Clapper said. “We call that new paradigm immaculate collection.”

Mr. Snowden’s NSA leak accelerated the growth of encryption technology used by the general public. More people than ever are using WhatsApp and other confidential communication tools. There needs to be a serious conversation about the proliferation of this technology, which makes it harder for the intelligence community to track terrorists, Mr. Clapper said.

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