foreign policy

U.S. Intel Chief Disputes Trump on North Korea and ISIS

U.S. intelligence chiefs testify to the Senate. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The head of the U.S. Intelligence Community says North Korea isn’t giving up its nukes and ISIS has not been defeated, contradicting President Trump’s go-to talking points on the rogue regime and the extremist group. Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, made those claims in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday.

“We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival,” Coats said in his opening statement to the panel.

Last June, after his first meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Trump tweeted: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” A second meeting between Trump and Kim is in the planning stages, but the time and location have not been set.

ISIS, another enemy that Trump claims has been vanquished, is still a threat as well, Coats added. The group “has returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide,” he said. “ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.”

CIA director Gina Haspel agreed that ISIS is still a threat. “They’re still dangerous,” she told senators. “They still have thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria. We are going to work very hard to finish that mission.”

This view fits with the assessment of Jim Mattis, the former Defense secretary, and Brett McGurk, the former U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS. Both men resigned in December following the Trump administration’s announcement that the U.S. would be pulling troops out of Syria, which came days after Trump declared that the U.S. “defeated ISIS in Syria.”

In addition to the comments on ISIS and North Korea, Coats warned that the intelligence community expects Russia to interfere with the 2020 presidential election. “We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences and efforts in previous elections,” Coats said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray added: “Not only did the Russians continue to do it in 2018, but we’ve seen indications that they’re continuing to adapt their model and that other countries are taking a very interested eye in that approach.”

U.S. Intel Chief Disputes Trump on North Korea and ISIS