In an interview that aired on Sunday on CBS's Face The Nation, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper described his secret mission to North Korea last week to seek the release of two American prisoners as a reason for optimism—even if North Korean officials were "disappointed" that all he had to offer was a letter from President Obama.
"I think the major message from them was their disappointment that there wasn’t some offer or some big—again, the term they used was 'breakthrough,'" Clapper said about his trip to Pyongyang.
"We weren't sure how this was going to play out," said Clapper, adding, "I, personally, was not completely confident that they would actually release our two citizens."
The two Americans—Kenneth Bae, a 46-year-old missionary from Washington state sentenced to 15 years hard labor in 2013 for unspecified crimes, and Matthew Todd Miller, 24, sentenced to six years for "hostile acts" against the state—were released after secret negotiations that involved Clapper, the Swedish government, and North Korean officials.
At the time, it appeared unusual that the U.S. would send the director of national intelligence instead of a former president or diplomat. However, Clapper said in the interview that North Korea had requested a current government official within the national-security apparatus—a request that may indicate why the North Koreans were disappointed with only receiving a formulaic letter from President Obama that mildly expressed gratitude for the prisoners' release.