New center reflects growing perceived threat from Pyongyang
North Korea has ramped up its nuclear weapons program in recent months
The CIA has established a Korea Mission Center to address “the nuclear and ballistic missile threat posed by” North Korea and its unpredictable leader, the US intelligence agency announced Wednesday.
The creation of the center focusing on specific threats from the Korean peninsula will allow the CIA to “harness the full resources, capabilities, and authorities of the Agency” to deal with North Korea, according to the agency’s statement.
The center, which is located in CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, will put the forces of CIA analysts and officers side-by-side in one location to tackle the threat from Pyongyang.
“The new Mission Center draws on experienced officers from across the Agency and integrates them in one entity to bring their expertise and creativity to bear against the North Korea target,” the statement reads.
Added Heather Fritz Horniak, a CIA spokeswoman: “Just as the threats facing our nation are dynamic, so too must the CIA continue to evolve to address them.”
Former CIA senior analyst John Nixon told CNN he expected the center to issue “sitreps” – situation reports for the intelligence community and the Trump administration – possibly twice daily, indicating an around-the-clock watch by an office of significant size.
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Why is it being created now?
In the statement, CIA Director Mike Pompeo says the creation of the center focuses the CIA’s efforts against the “serious threats” emerging from North Korea, which has in recent months ramped up both nuclear and missile tests in an effort to enhance its military capabilities.
“Creating the Korea Mission Center allows us to more purposefully integrate and direct CIA efforts against the serious threats to the United States and its allies emanating from North Korea,” Pompeo said, adding its creation “reflects the dynamism and agility that CIA brings to evolving national security challenges.”
Existing CIA Mission Centers
The timing is unlikely to be linked to any recent events but rather to better position the agency against a very real and growing threat to the US, justifying the allocation of enough resources to a dedicated center, according to Bruce Klingner, former CIA Deputy Division Chief for Korea and senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.
“Although there aren’t many details, a restructuring of the bureaucracy is something that takes quite a while to prepare, review, and go through multiple levels of approval,” Klingner told CNN.
There are 10 such existing centers in the CIA, and the new addition will be the most focused in terms of geographical area and remit – the Korean Peninsula currently falls under the jurisdiction of the Mission Center for East Asia and Pacific.
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Cooperation with South Korean intelligence agencies
The new office will “work closely with the intelligence community and the entire US national security community,” the CIA statement said.
Nixon, the former analyst, said he also expects significant cooperation with South Korean intelligence services going forward.
“I think (cooperation with the South Korean National Intelligence Service) will be very high. Also with the (Korean Central Intelligence Agency).”
He added that the announcement of the center, coinciding with the election of a less-hardline South Korean President who is likely to pursue at least some form of diplomacy with Seoul’s belligerent neighbor to the north, was “interesting.”
“I think its very interesting that this happened and now we have (newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in) who says he want a different relationship with Pyongyang. I think that’s very helpful, hardline never works.”
Nixon said the creation of the mission would send a message from the CIA to the Trump administration that his foreign policy priorities were being acknowledged.
“It’s not an easy regime to collect information on, but we’re not getting the information out of there that we should. It’s a sign that, ‘OK folks, we’re going to get serious about this,’” he said. “(This center will) show the administration that this (issue) is going to be front and center.
“One thing that’s interesting about Trump is that he’s getting briefed up about North Korea. He’s absorbing this stuff. It’s another sign that North Korea is the top of the list.”
He added that the CIA is looking to “beef up” its Seoul station, including the appointment of a new, high-profile station chief in Seoul.
“They’re going to look for somebody with serious gravitas, who has connections and knows the players,” he said.
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CNN’s Brian Todd and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.