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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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April 10th, 2013
04:40 PM ET

The U.S. has a blind spot when it comes to North Korea

By Jake Tapper and Sherisse Pham

The U.S. military may be ill-prepared for the fall of North Korea, at least according to a recent war game conducted by U.S. Army planners. The exercise assumed the collapse of "North Brownland," a North Korea-like country that inconveniently loses control over its nuclear weapons as it falls. When American forces made it over the border into "North Brownland," they encountered several humanitarian assistance problems, and major tactical complications caused by not having human intelligence assets in the country for years. And with nuclear sites located in populated areas, their mission became more difficult.

Gen. Walter "Skip" Sharp led U.S. forces in Korea from 2008- 2011. Sharp says if the U.S. took action against North Korea, the reality may be similar to the war game outcome in one crucial area. The U.S. essentially has a blind spot when it comes to intelligence on North Korea's nuclear weapons, making it very difficult to assess how the U.S. could secure those weapons in the event of the country's collapse.

"With the great underground facilities that they have in North Korea, there are many, many other sites of weapons of mass destruction," said Sharp. "When you're looking for ... six to 12 rounds of a nuclear capability, that could be hidden anywhere in that country, it's going to be very difficult."

The U.S.  is currently dealing with North Korea's latest rounds of threats, which appear different from previous saber-rattling episodes.

"North Korea has been - with its bellicose rhetoric, with its actions - have been skating very close to a dangerous line. Their actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday.

The country has been ratcheting up its threats in provocation and intensity, even shutting down the Kaesong Industrial complex - a region ten miles north of the DMZ that is jointly run with South Korea - a move Sharp did not anticipate.

"In the past, especially before 2010, these provocations would be met by, 'We'd like to talk, you stop doing this, we'll give you food, and we'll give you aid,'" said Sharp.

In 2010 North Korea attacked a South Korean ship, killing 46 sailors, and then a few months later, a South Korean island, killing four people. The attack on the island took place weeks after annual military drills by South Korea and the United States.

South Korea is not going to let an attack like that happen again.

"We'll provide some intelligence from our intelligence assets that we have to help more accurately target. But the actual kinetic response going back will be from South Korea," said Sharp.

"We'll work this as an alliance. It will take a presidential decision to go beyond ... the immediate self-defense. But that's what this is - this provocation plan is lined up," said Sharp.

But there is an uncertainty when it comes to North Korea, and its new leader, Kim Jong Un.

"We've never penetrated their inner workings of governance," General James "Spider" Marks said on "The Lead with Jake Tapper" last week. "To better understand their intentions, you have to be inside. And we don't have that type of inside look."

And while the Department of Defense says it is prepared for every contingency when it comes to North Korea, as Defense Sec. Hagel said on Wednesday, "The reality is that [Kim Jon Un] is unpredictable. That country is unpredictable."

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