February 27, 2007
Senator Clinton Questions Vice Admiral John M. McConnell, USN (ret), Director of National Intelligence and Lieutenant General Michael Maples, USA, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Worldwide Threats
Chairman Levin: Senator Clinton.
Senator Clinton: Thank you Mr. Chairman. I appreciate that. Admiral McConnell the Annual Threat Estimate characterizes Iran as determined to obtain nuclear weapons. In response to the series of questions from my colleague Senator Graham, you obliviously agree with that assessment. I want to ask it a little bit differently. What is the best estimate of the U.S. intelligence community for how long it would take for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them and what degree of confidence do you have in that estimate?
Admiral McConnell: The earliest they could produce a nuclear weapon would be early next decade, more likely mid-next decade.
Senator Clinton: And by mid-next decade, are we talking 2015?
Admiral McConnell: We would be talking 2015.
Senator Clinton: And when that date is reached, 2015, which is the earliest that they could produce a nuclear weapon, would they then have the capacity to deliver that nuclear weapon?
Admiral McConnell: It depends on how they develop their program. If they were to start the program for delivery, consistent with the development of a nuclear weapon, they could match and marry up in the same time frame. Normally, it would take a little longer to have a delivery capability.
Senator Clinton: Thank you Admiral McConnell. General Maples, in 2005 Admiral Jacoby told me in testimony before this committee that North Korea had the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear device. I think it was the first time that testimony had ever been given in public. And last year, General Maples, you told me that North Korea is and I quote, "in the process of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, but they have not done so yet, nor have they tested it." Given the July 2006 missile test, would you revise your assessment of whether North Korea has developed an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the United States? If not, how many more years before North Korea has this capability?
General Maples: I believe they have the technical capability as we saw by the Tapo Dong, but they have not successfully tested it yet.
Senator Clinton: I just want to be clear that when we're talking about the technical capability, we're talking about a missile launched from North Korea that could reach California.
General Maples: That's correct.
Senator Clinton: And with your assessment, do you have any best estimate as to how many more years before they would have a deliverable capability?
General Maples: I would probably estimate it's not a matter of years that in fact they will have learned from the Tapo Dong launch of this last summer and gone back to make corrections to whatever the failure was and apply that to the missile systems that they already have.
Senator Clinton: I'd to ask Doctor Fingar because I understand you have an expertise in China, and also General Maples. In your written statement that was submitted to the committee regarding China's military modernization, you state that you assess China's aspirations for great power status, threat perceptions, and security strategy would drive China's modernization efforts even if the Taiwan problem were resolved. Is that correct?
General Maples: That is correct.
Senator Clinton: Your written statement, however, fails to mention China's January 11 anti-satellite test. So, perhaps this goes more to General Maples, but obliviously I'd be pleased to hear from anyone on the panel. Given China's recent anti-satellite test and the Chinese Government's professed opposition to the weaponization of space, what explains, in the opinion of any of you, the Government's decision to permit the military to conduct such a test? Do you believe that the leadership, either civilian or military, was aware of the potential negative implications in terms of U.S. diplomatic and potential military response or was there some other motive at work? General Maples? Dr. Fingar?
General Maples: No, I just heard that I believe that the Chinese and the Russians, to some extent, will continue to pursue space and counter-space capabilities as they demonstrated by the launch of the SC-19.
Senator Clinton: And do you see that as fitting into your assessment that they're going to continue to modernize regardless of any other factor that is going on, including the status of Taiwan?
General Maples: I believe that they will continue to modernize, yes ma'am.
Senator Clinton: Let me ask each of you to briefly respond. In your opinion, under what circumstances would China become a military threat to the United States?
Admiral McConnell: China today could be a military threat. They have intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads and so on. So it's a matter of, they're building their military, in my view, to reach some state of parity with the United States. So, in a threat sense, it becomes intentions, so they're a threat today, they would become an increasing threat over time.
Senator Clinton: Dr. Fingar?
Dr. Fingar: Well, they've certainly had the capability for decades. But, they have appeared to have decided that we are not an enemy. That they require a peaceful international environment in order to proceed with their own efforts for economic modernization in order to address their very severe social problems. But they are a country with a history of, in their view, having been victimized by stronger external powers and they take national defense, including lessons learned out of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, forward defense to heart.
Senator Clinton: I appreciate your commenting and perhaps this is an issue that we can explore further because obviously both within their government, as well as within ours, there is a debate occurring as how to view each other and I personally think it's one of the most important debates for us to get right. And finally Dr. Fingar, in your response to a series of questions about the NIE on Iraq, do you have an opinion about the impact on Iraq's potential for stability and security of a phased re-deployment versus a rapid withdrawal?
Dr. Fingar: Senator, I do not. It's not a question that I have looked at or that we have looked at.
Senator Clinton: I think that's important and I appreciate your candor on that issue, because clearly the conclusion some are drawing from the NIE would suggest that there was an opinion and that you has such an opinion and I appreciate your response to my question. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Levin: Thank you Senator Warner. Senator Clinton.
Senator Clinton: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I think it would be useful to have the committee staff look into the chronology of the activity surrounding our statement back in 2002 about North Korea's highly enriched uranium program. My recollection was that we stopped sending fuel oil before North Korea pulled out of the NPT and dismissed the IAEA inspectors, but I think this is very important because we've learned some lessons. I think we've learned some lessons about what not to do in dealing with serious threats such as that posed by a nation like North Korea and others obtaining nuclear weapons, but if we could get that chronology.
Chairman Levin: The committee staff will do that and by the way, my recollection is the same as yours and we did stop sending the heavy fuel oil to North Korea before they withdrew from the framework and left the IAEA. But, we will have the staff double check that.
Senator Clinton: Thank you. Vice President Cheney was in Pakistan yesterday and from the news report it appears that he delivered, what is referred to as a stiff message, a stiff private message, to the Pakistani Government to crack down more effectively on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda inside Pakistan. I assume, Admiral McConnell, that Vice President Cheney was briefed in an up-to-date way in whatever intelligence assessments were attributed to our understanding of Pakistan before he went. Is that correct?
Admiral McConnell: That is correct and in fact he was accompanied by the Deputy Director of CIA and I'm sure that he had all the current information.
Senator Clinton: So I just want to ask you, therefore, based on that and based on Vice President Cheney's apparent mission there, is it the assessment of our intelligence community, number one that Pakistan is capable of doing more with respect to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda then they are currently doing? And number two, that President Musharraf's hold on power within Pakistan, is firm enough for him to take such additional steps?
Admiral McConnell: One, we believe they could do more. And the issue of being elected for the next term is the issue that, in my view, President of Pakistan is wrestling with. He signed the agreement with the tribal leaders in the frontier area, as you are aware last fall, and the question was, he was taking causalities for going into those areas attempting to chase Al-Qaeda. He believed, he being the President of Pakistan, believed that he could be more effective by signing this peace agreement and from our point of view, capabilities of Al-Qaeda for training and so on, increased. Therefore, the Vice President visit and others visit to make the case that we have to be more aggressive in going after Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. The balancing act, of course is the President's standing in that country with an election coming up this fall.
Senator Clinton: Thank you.