May 22, 2017
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered Sunday's launch of a new medium-range missile, and after it was deemed a success, he "approved the deployment of this weapon system for action" and called for it to be "rapidly mass-produced," North Korean state media said.

The Pukguksong-2 missile traveled for about 310 miles, reaching a height of 350 miles, before it fell into the Pacific Ocean. It is a solid-fuel missile, meaning it is fueled up prior to being moved into place and can be launched quickly. State media said more missiles will be launched soon, calling them an "answer" to the policies of President Trump. On Fox News Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that North Korea's testing is "disappointing" and "disturbing." Catherine Garcia

May 14, 2017
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The ballistic rocket test conducted by North Korea on Sunday was "aimed at verifying the tactical and technological specifications" of a newly developed missile "capable of carrying a large-size heavy nuclear warhead," the country's official KCNA news agency said Monday.

The launch was supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, KCNA said, and the missile flew 490 miles and reached an altitude of 1,312 miles. Experts say the missile was launched at its highest angle, and if it was fired at a standard trajectory, it would be able to travel as far as 2,500 miles. U.S. Pacific Command said the type of missile launched was "not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile." Kim was likely trying to send a message to South Korea's new leader, Moon Jae-in, who was sworn in on Wednesday and said his country is "leaving open the possibility of dialogue with North Korea." The missile landed in the sea near Russia. Catherine Garcia

May 10, 2017
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The CIA has established a special unit drawing from departments across the agency to analyze North Korea's nuclear weapons threat.

"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," CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in a statement. This is the CIA's first mission center focused solely on one country, Agence France-Presse reports, and will use employees from operations, analysis, and cyber divisions to look at information on North Korea's nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile technology.

"Just as the threats facing our nation are dynamic, so too must the CIA continue to evolve to address them," CIA spokesman Jonathan Liu said. Experts believe that a sixth nuclear test by North Korea is imminent. Catherine Garcia

April 26, 2017
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On Wednesday, senators were briefed at the White House by top national security advisers on the situation in North Korea, but several said they left the meeting without hearing any solid details on how the U.S. will deal with the country as it remains intent on building a nuclear arsenal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asked for the briefing, which was delivered by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In a statement, Tillerson, Mattis, and Coats said America's goal is to "convince the regime to de-escalate and return to a path of dialogue" toward peace. The U.S. does remain "open to negotiations," the statement read, but is "prepared to defend ourselves and our allies."

Several senators told The Washington Post that during the briefing, they did not learn much about how the U.S. will deal with North Korea and its provocations. "There was very little, if anything, new," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). "I remain mystified about why the entire Senate had to be taken over to the White House rather than conducting it here." A Republican senator told the Post that the "basic gist of it at the beginning was that we're going to get more aggressive, we've waited and they've continued to be bad actors." The senators wanted to know what "we should be looking for as the trigger that something is about to happen and that we'd end up taking some kind of action," the senator recounted. "That's where things got a little elliptical."

Earlier in the day, Admiral Harry Harris, the top U.S. commander in the Pacific, told Congress that the U.S. needs to take threats from North Korea very seriously, and should strengthen missile defenses in key areas like Hawaii. Catherine Garcia

April 25, 2017
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President Trump has summoned all 100 senators to the White House on Wednesday for a rare briefing on the topic of North Korea, Reuters reports. The meeting will be led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford.

Experts are increasingly worried by the speed of North Korea's technological advancements, with intelligence indicating the nation is able to produce a nuclear bomb every six or seven weeks, The New York Times reports. As soon as 2020, many experts believe North Korea will be able to make an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach Seattle or Los Angeles, and one day, New York.

President Trump personally suggested the meeting take place in the White House, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accepted, puzzling some senators since, of course, they have their own building they are able to meet in. Some wondered to The Washington Post if the administration intends to use the moment as a photo-op to bolster Trump's 100-day image. "These briefings are always, always, always done in the SCIF up here," a Senate aide told The Washington Post. "Does it mean classified information is going to be shared in an unsecured setting? Or that we're not hearing about classified material?"

Others expressed relief they are hearing from the administration at all. "I hope that we hear their policy as to what their objectives are, and how we can accomplish that hopefully without dropping bomb," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Jeva Lange

April 24, 2017

Chinese President Xi Jinping urged President Trump to show restraint as tensions rise over North Korea. The two leaders spoke by phone on Monday as the Hermit Kingdom prepares to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of its military on Tuesday. Korea experts fear that Pyongyang will mark the occasion with another provocative missile or nuclear weapon test. North Korea said Sunday that it was prepared to bomb the USS Carl Vinson, a U.S. aircraft carrier leading a Navy carrier strike group toward North Korea in a show of force. Xi said he hoped "all sides exercise restraint and avoid doing things that exacerbate tensions." President Trump also spoke by phone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who called on Pyongyang to end its "dangerously provocative actions" after it marked its last major holiday a week ago with a failed missile test. Harold Maass

April 20, 2017

After a North Korean missile exploded seconds after launch on Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence declined to confirm or deny if the U.S. had sabotaged the missile test. "I really can't comment on the electronic and technical capabilities of our military," he told CNN on Wednesday aboard the USS Ronald Reagan in Japan. But the U.S. has been ramping up its efforts to disrupt North Korea's missile program through cyber and electronic means since 2014, when former President Barack Obama decided other anti-missile systems weren't a sufficient defense, The New York Times reported last month.

The goal of the covert program is to sabotage missiles so they explode seconds after launch, and North Korean military rockets have been regularly exploding, veering off course, and plunging into the sea since soon after Obama ordered the disruption efforts. Medium-range Musudan missiles, for example, have a failure rate of 88 percent, The New York Times says. There are several ways the U.S. might sabotage Pyongyang's missile program, experts say. "You could either go after the supply chain, embedding flaws in parts and systems that they are using," Peter Singer, a fellow at New America, told CNN. Other possible tactics include hacking the electronics to mess with the launch sequence or trigger the self-destruct mechanism. CNN's Brian Todd lays out the case for U.S. sabotage:

It is also possible that North Korea is just suffering technical difficulties, human error, sabotage by disgruntled North Koreans, or flawed designs. But last fall, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "was widely reported to have ordered an investigation into whether the United States was sabotaging North Korea's launches," the Times reported in early March, "and over the past week he has executed senior security officials." Peter Weber

April 18, 2017
Sean M. Castellano/U.S. Navy Photo

On April 8, with tensions rising on the Korean peninsula, Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, ordered the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its support ships to head toward Korea, in what was widely seen as a show of force and warning for North Korea. Everybody seems to have expected the Vinson strike group to actually move toward the Koreas, but as of Saturday, it was some 3,500 miles south, off the coast of Sumatra, after taking part in scheduled joint exercises with Australian forces.

U.S. Navy officials confirmed that the Vinson was nowhere near Korea, telling Defense News off the record they didn't understand why the media kept reporting the strike group was headed that way. "We've made no such statement," one official said. Among those who did suggest the U.S. is sending "an armada," including submarines, toward North Korea was President Trump. If the Vinson traveled at its maximum speed of about 35 mph, Stars and Stripes calculated, the strike group could travel from Indonesia's Sunda Strait to the Korean peninsula in four to five days. Navy officials did not dispute reports from South Korea that the Vinson strike group would arrive around April 25. Peter Weber

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