Rachel Maddow mentioned this story two nights in a row, but she hasn't gone the extra step to say out loud what the possible conclusion is. That's not to suggest she's unaware of what the story could ultimately mean, it's just that she doesn't have enough information yet for her to feel comfortable drawing any sort of definitive conclusion.
That said, I'm more than happy to talk about my very tentative hunch on this one.
Let's back up.
The reason for the sudden upswing in debate about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as well as President Trump's completely irresponsible and embarrassing nuclear warmongering, could be based on a story published in The Washington Post about the DPRK's nuclear capabilities. The story goes that Kim Jong-un has developed a nuclear warhead small enough to fit aboard an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
“The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles,” the assessment states, in an excerpt read to The Washington Post. Two U.S. officials familiar with the assessment verified its broad conclusions. It is not known whether the reclusive regime has successfully tested the smaller design, although North Korea officially claimed last year that it had done so.
However, exactly zero other intelligence agencies have corroborated the DIA's assessment. Total silence. That's red flag number one.
Next, Maddow also reminded us that four years ago, the DIA released a similar assessment suggesting the exact same thing. However, this conclusion by the DIA turned out to be wrong, according to Maddow. Red flag number two.
And finally, take a guess at who was in charge of the DIA in April, 2013, when this erroneous assessment was reported: a controversial Army general named Mike Flynn, who, not unimportantly, was fired by President Obama on April 30, just a couple weeks after the inaccurate DPRK miniaturization story broke. (To clarify: the reporting was accurate, but the DIA assessment was apparently inaccurate.) That's red flag number three.
We also know that Trump's approval ratings have continued to sink. We know that Trump is well aware of the fact that commanders-in-chief always get a bump in approval numbers when military options are on the table. Indeed, the last time Trump seriously looked at a shooting war, he was praised by cable news -- Fareed Zakaria unforgivably said on CNN that Trump "became president" when he bombed an airstrip in Syria. And we know that the Trump-Russia story is getting hotter, with news of a pre-dawn raid at Paul Manafort's house being reported this week. In addition, we learned that it was Manafort who tipped off authorities about Don Junior's conspiratorial meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya in June of 2016.
Good time for warmongering, right?
So, here's my theory on this matter. I'm nowhere near convinced -- yet! -- that the Trump White House is fabricating a pretext for war on the Korean peninsula. But if the White House was interested in giving us something to obsess about other than Russia, a nuclear standoff is a good excuse. After all, most of us are terrified at the prospect of two brain-worm suffering weirdos, Trump and Kim, engaging in a trans-Pacific game of chicken. Cutting to the chase, what if the new DIA assessment is merely a recycling of the Flynn-era assessment, which was then delivered to top officials at the White House by Flynn loyalists, and deliberately leaked to The Washington Post?
If the assessment turns out to be accurate, then fine. Trump continues to awkwardly threaten nuclear armageddon. If it turns out to be inaccurate, fine again. After all, what could be better for the Trump White House than an inaccurate intelligence community assessment to help damage the IC's credibility, thus calling into question the leaked details about Trump-Russia? It's a win-win for Trump.
Again, I have no idea if the current DIA assessment is accurate or not. But given the unprecedented dishonesty of both Trump and his staffers, we have no choice but to seriously question everything they say. And given that one of the biggest rats of them all, Mike Flynn, was the head of the DIA when the previous and false DPRK miniaturization story broke, it's fair to question whether he's still pulling some levers behind the scenes.
As Maddow says: watch this space.