In testimony before Congress, CIA Director George Tenet said North Korea's defiance of non-proliferation agreements is a worrying development. Mr. Tenet and lawmakers linked the question of North Korea's nuclear weapons development with the threat posed by terrorist groups.
Mr. Tenet says North Korea's admissions about its efforts to process highly-enriched uranium, among other developments, pose a "serious danger" for the East Asian region, and the world.
North Korea, says the CIA director, is an example of "the weakening of the international proliferation consensus". "Kim Jong Il's attempts this past year to parlay the North's nuclear weapons program into political leverage suggest he is trying to negotiate a fundamentally different relationship with Washington, one that implicitly tolerates North Korea's nuclear weapons program."
Mr. Tenet says North Korean developments coincide with a worrying threat posed by "non-state" terrorists, such as al-Qaida and other groups, who could use biological, chemical or nuclear materials to stage attacks. He says the world faces, what he calls, "a new "domino theory of the 21st century" in which non-nuclear states may be seizing the opportunity to go nuclear. "The example of new nuclear states that seem able to deter threats from more powerful states simply by brandishing nuclear weaponry, will resonate deeply among other countries that want to enter the nuclear weapons club," says Mr. Tenet.
The Bush administration has been sharply criticized by some lawmakers, principally Democrats, who say Washington should be treating North Korea as a "crisis."
"The fact that our intelligence community describes it accurately, as a crisis, it seems to me is at least a beginning of a fair assessment of how serious that is," says Senator Carl Levin.
Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, the Committee chairman, cautioned that all threats whether from North Korea or al-Qaida need to be treated as serious challenges for U.S. national security. "All this is related. We have a tendency to say, North Korea is the number one issue," says Senator Roberts. "Then, Director Tenet says al-Qaida is the number one issue. Then the President says Iraq is the number one issue. They are all inter-related."
Also testifying before the Senate Committee on Intelligence, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the United States needs to be especially vigilant about the threat of proliferation of weapons materials to terrorist groups. "Acquisition of such weapons would be a huge morale boost for those seeking our destruction while engendering widespread fear among Americans and among our allies."
Mr. Mueller says seven countries the United States has designated as state sponsors of terrorism North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, and Cuba in his words, remain active in the United States and continue to support terrorist groups that have targeted Americans.