Clapper said the United States believes the primary objective of Kim's bellicose rhetoric is to "consolidate and affirm his power" and to show he is "in control of North Korea."
Clapper said he doesn't think Kim "has much of an endgame" other than to get recognition from the world as a nuclear power which "entitles him to negotiation, accommodation and, presumably, aid."
But in a statement for the record before the committee, Clapper reiterated that the nation's "nuclear weapons and missile programs pose a serious threat to the United States and to the security environment in East Asia."
Since December, North Korea has put a satellite in orbit atop a long-range rocket; conducted a nuclear bomb test, its third since 2006; and claimed to be prepared for pre-emptive nuclear attacks on the United States, though most analysts believe it does not yet have that capability.
Its most recent nuclear test, in February, resulted in tougher U.N. sanctions, which infuriated Pyongyang, prompting it to sharpen its threats.
Annual military exercises in South Korea by U.S. and South Korean troops, which often upset the North, have added to the tensions, especially when the United States drew attention to shows of strength such as a practice mission by B-2 stealth bombers.