Army Gen. Paul LaCamera, nominated to be the next commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, told the Senate this week that North Korea is building small warheads, tactical nuclear arms and multiple warhead missiles.
“In January of this year, [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un announced plans and programs to expand its nuclear deterrent, specifically, the development of miniaturized nuclear warheads, tactical nuclear weapons, and even multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles,” Gen. LaCamera disclosed in written answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The general said that, if confirmed, he will work with intelligence officials to assess and analyze the nuclear capabilities and a timeline for their employment.
“After assessment, I would review potential requirements for any necessary capabilities and force structure changes on the peninsula,” he stated.
Gen. LaCamera said Pyongyang is developing “an unprecedented number” of new weapons systems that expand the level of threats from the region directly to the United States. North Korea has revealed in recent military parades that it now has long-range missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland and has produced videos of simulated nuclear strikes on U.S. cities.
So far, Pyongyang sees an opportunity for negotiations with the new Biden administration, but also is set to conduct “provocative and coercive steps with long-range missile tests or possibly even demonstrate its nuclear capability,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected North Korea’s military but the nuclear-armed state remains a significant threat. “Currently, the Korean Peninsula is stable and tension is low, especially along the demilitarized zone and northern limit line,” Gen. LaCamera said. But weapons of mass destruction, asymmetric capabilities like cyber strike efforts and large conventional forces remain “a significant threat” to the U.S. and its allies. The general said the regime is “struggling” with the coronavirus pandemic even though the government claims zero cases in the country.
“North Korea closed its borders and halted international commerce, which created significant economic challenges,” he said. “North Korea is using the [Korean People’s Army] military to support enforcing these border restrictions,” he noted.
The general said bolstering missile defenses will help counter the long-range missile threats from the North. He also wants more aircraft carrier strike group and bomber visits, along with advanced fighter deployments.
Missile defenses in the region must defend against a large arsenal of missiles capable of complex attacks with nuclear, chemical and biological arms. To defend against missile strikes, U.S. and allied forces must neutralize North Korean missiles before launch and in both upper and lower tiers of their flight.
Gen. LaCamera said the North’s large force of mostly outdated weapons and gear “is a military where quantity has a quality of its own.” North Korea’s 1-million member military is one of the world’s largest and includes about 70% of the forces deployed near the demilitarized zone.
Pentagon to monitor social media
As part of its politically charged effort to identify extremists in the military, the Pentagon is planning to develop surveillance tools to monitor social media accounts of military personnel. The Pentagon working group program has drawn fire from the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama.
“I am greatly concerned by numerous press reports of conservative voices being silenced in the Department of Defense while departmental leadership defends and protects left-leaning voices,” Mr. Rogers said in a statement. “The United States Armed Forces should be focused on preparing to face and win any battles against the threats posed by China and other foreign adversaries and not imposing political beliefs on those who chose to serve in uniform.”
Mr. Rogers said he and other Republican members regularly hear from active-duty and retired service members who say “even holding conservative values is now enough to endanger a service member’s military career.”
“I believe that this is an issue that must be addressed in this year’s [national defense authorization act] and look forward to working with my Republican colleagues on the committee and any free-speech minded Democrats interested in joining our cause.”
Space Force Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier was fired last weekend after he published a book that accused the military of promoting Marxist ideologies within the services.
“I don’t believe I was being partisan. It is not politically partisan to expose or attack critical race theory or Marxism,” Lt. Col. Lohmeier told Fox News on Monday.
Lt. Col. Lohmeier said communications from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as part of a recent military-wide “stand down” on extremism stated that “the country was evil, that it was founded in 1619 rather than 1776, and that White [people] are inherently evil.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that Col. Lohmeier did not submit his self-published book, “Irresistible Revolution: Marxism’s Goal of Conquest & the Unmaking of the American Military,” for a policy review, a violation of rules.
Separately, Mr. Kirby also disclosed that the Pentagon is considering a program to monitor service members’ social media accounts as part of anti-extremism measures.
The program could run counter to the First Amendment rights of military personnel.
A press release on the extremism working group in April said surveillance techniques for security screening could involve machine learning and natural language processing in social media screening tools.
Pentagon special adviser Bishop Garrison is leading an extremist working group to examine the scope of extremist activity in the military and working on “some potential solutions, going forward,” he said.
The effort includes trying to determine how much to train future veterans to avoid recruitment by extremist groups and how to conduct “data collection possibilities” to determine the size of the problem.
“We already take a look at the social media footprint when we are considering recruits as they come in,” Mr. Kirby said.
Additionally, the Pentagon’s insider threat program also scrutinizes social media for signs of military members operating as spies or terrorists.
Mr. Kirby denied that a pilot program to monitor military members’ social media is in place, as reported by The Intercept, which said it had reviewed a document about the program. Mr. Kirby said he had not seen the document and was unsure whether such a document would be released to the public.
“I’m not aware of any efforts to expand what we’re doing right now, but the extremist working group is certainly going to look at the degree to which the information environment impacts or is impacted by extremist activity. That would include the social media landscape,” he said, noting that it would premature to say there is a new policy on the subject.
The House Armed Services Committee said in a statement that the Pentagon is “exploring a means of implementing social media screening in conjunction with background investigations.”
“We anticipate that any social media screening would be intended only as an additional means of vetting cleared individuals or those seeking to obtain a security clearance, not as a tool for ongoing surveillance of all men and women in uniform,” the panel said.
Mr. Austin, however, intends to learn the extent of extremism in the military and the impact on good order and discipline, the statement noted.
Mr. Kirby denied the working group is planning to “somehow spy on every individual in the military or spend hours and hours just gleaning through social media activity, just for the sake of doing it.”
“This isn’t about some sort of surveillance program of our own people,” he added.
Nuclear bombers fly practice mission
The Strategic Command this week conducted simultaneous flights of B-52 nuclear-capable bombers in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East in a major show of American power.
Six B-52s flying out of U.S. and overseas bases carried out what the command called a bomber task force mission that involved allies and partners in the three regions and North America.
“The speed, flexibility and readiness of our strategic bombers play a critical role in our ability to deter potential adversaries and signal our unwavering support to our allies and partners,” said Adm. Charles “Chas” Richard, Strategic Command commander.
“Missions like this provide invaluable training opportunities with our allies and partners to improve our interoperability and demonstrate that our forces are capable of operating anywhere, anytime, to meet any challenge decisively.”
The Asian operations were conducted from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The European, African and Middle East segments involved bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. A bomber group also was deployed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
The military called the exercise Operation Apex Charger billed as a “global power projection event.”
Specifics of the flights were not disclosed.
— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.
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