LANGLEY, Va. – The fragile state of North Korea and the booming, oil-rich trio of Iran, Venezuela and Russia have grown increasingly aggressive and pose some of the greatest security challenges for the next president, CIA Director Michael Hayden says.
In an exclusive interview with FOX News, Hayden said weakness and poverty have made North Korea more aggressive as it threatens to restart work on its nuclear weapons program.
"This is a country in very, very desperate straits," Hayden said. "But out of this weakness, out of this very fragility, there’s this danger of great chaos; they seem to have a knack for using that very fragility to the best of their ability to affect the nations around them — ourselves included."
North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke in August, leaving the status of power within the state unclear. A pariah abroad, the country is using that domestic chaos as a tool in an aggressive push against the U.S. government.
"They are very astute observers of the political processes, not just here, but in Japan, China, South Korea, Russia and elsewhere," Hayden said.
In September, North Korea removed seals placed by the International Atomic Energy Agency on its nuclear reactor in Yongbyon and announced its intention to rebuild facilities there after publicly destroying the reactor's cooling tower in June.
Hayden spoke cautiously about whether North Korea was making a political maneuver or genuine moving toward reconstituting its nuclear program, which has brought heavy international sanctions upon it. "It depends on whether this is political and diplomatic theater, or [if it is] really intent on restarting the program," he said.
While the increasingly fragile status of impoverished North Korea renders it a special threat, the flood of petrodollars coming from the so-called "Axis of Oil" — Iran, Venezuela and Russia — poses another threat to American security.
Hayden said oil prices, which are still hovering around $100 per barrel, have emboldened these oil-rich nations. "Oil, at its current price ... gives the Russian state a degree of influence and power that it would have not otherwise had," he said.
Russia's invasion of Georgian territory in August and Iran's continued work on acquiring nuclear weapons only compound the threat.
Iran, far more than North Korea, continues work on its nuclear program, which the U.S. government fears will lead it to acquiring a nuclear bomb sometime in the near future.
"Our judgment is that [Iran could achieve a nuclear bomb] toward the middle of the next decade," Hayden told FOX News. "It can be accelerated, it can be decelerated, based on a variety of factors."
Hayden hopes that U.S. Intelligence will be able to provide the next administration with the tools it needs to face up to the nuclear threat from North Korea and elsewhere.
"As far as the intelligence community is concerned, the stronger the verification regime, the more capable we’ll be at giving policy-makers confidence in our judgments," he said.
FOX News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.