WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain said Monday the world is better off now that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has died and predicted that the dictator would join the likes of Adolf Hitler "in a warm corner of hell."
McCain's political colleagues, including GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, joined the prominent and outspoken senator in saying bluntly that Kim will not be missed after decades of oppression and threatening the world with his nuclear program.
"I can only express satisfaction that the Dear Leader is joining the likes of Gadhafi, bin Laden, Hitler and Stalin in a warm corner of hell," said McCain, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Kim's departure leaves gaping uncertainty over whether his untested son Kim Jong Un would survive the palace intrigue and power jockeying in the wake of his father's passing.
Members of the intelligence committees were briefed Monday on the intelligence community's best guess. They were told an Kim Jong Un regime, once established, would be much like his father's, but first, the 27-year-old might have to fight for it, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.
Kim Jong Un had only two short years to consolidate his influence on the military and elites who keep the Kim family in power, after being named the successor, which makes him weak, one of the officials said.
But he still is likely to survive the turmoil because those regime elites "are too invested in the family or too cautious to do anything else but support him," the official added.
"North Korea doesn't know what's going to happen next," including the family members who have run the country, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said in an interview.
"The biggest telltale sign was the fact the military said no mourning in streets, trying to keep everyone locked down," including troops being told to stay on their bases, so public sentiment won't lead to unrest.
"Most people believe that everything will be quiet for the short term, and you will be able to decide over next weeks or months," whether 27-year-old Kim Jung Un can hold onto power.
Paul Stares, with the Center on Foreign Relations, said the U.S. would be watching closely three upcoming public events – Kim's funeral, his son's birthday celebration and the state's annual New Year's address. Questions to be answered: Who is the new leader speaking to? Who is standing around him? Does China attend? Who do they send?
"These are all critical signs for us," said Stares.
Pete Hoekstra, the former Michigan congressman who served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the U.S. has "no clue what will happen" in the wake of Kim's death.
"Getting access into the inner dynamics of North Korea has always been hard," said Hoekstra, who is running for the Senate. "It was always a place where the majority of (intelligence) briefings would start out, `We believe ...'"
As little as a year ago when Hoekstra left the post, intelligence on North Korea was spare, derived mostly from signals intelligence such as intercepted communications, but few human sources, he said.
Spies need both to help cross-check tips from intercepted snatches of conversation with people on the ground.
The two U.S. officials insisted intelligence capability has improved, however, pointing out that U.S. intelligence is certain that the test missile launch just after Kim Jong Il's death was planned long beforehand and had nothing to do with the death or succession.
AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier can be followed on Twitter (at)kimberlydozier.