N. Korea: Intelligence will have to get it right

Knowing what North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is thinking is virtually impossible because of his brutal, often erratic personality. One question is whether he understands he has an ace in the hole and is using it.

If so, Kim may well bring on a nuclear war.

During the weekend, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited South Korea and said the threat of a North Korean attack using nuclear missiles is increasing. Pyongyang is continuing to improve the nuclear arms and missiles, Mattis explained.

Understand what that means: If Mattis is right, Kim — having been warned sternly that any aggression will result in his destruction — is proceeding with his offensive weapons buildup. It may reach a point at which power to harm the United States in such hands will be unacceptable.

Therein lies Kim’s advantage. Many Americans, probably including President Donald Trump, remain skeptical of U.S. intelligence agencies because of mistakes over weapons of mass destruction that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Is Kim counting on that distrust to allow him to get away with his arms buildup? No one knows with certainty. But the possibility places a burden on our intelligence services — and they must get it right this time.