North Korean missile launch possibly sabotaged, DEBKAfile, April 16, 2017
Out of a basketful of aggressive options, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence experts pick the four most likely methods the Americans may have applied to thwart the latest North missile launch
An unidentified North Korean ballistic missile exploded seconds after it was launched Sunday, April 16, from a site near the port city of Sinpo, just as US Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Seoul for talks with the South Korean government on how to deal with Pyongyang’s belligerence. The medium-range missile failure occurred the day after a spectacular military parade rolled through central Pyongyang to mark the 105th anniversary of North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung. It showcased 50 missiles, including the first display of a submarine-launched missile.
Missile launches have failed before – and not just in North Korea. But worth noting are the comments by US officials before and after the North Korean missile detonated: “We had good intelligence before the launch and good intelligence after the launch,” was one. The US Pacific Command said it had detected and tracked what it assessed to be a North Korean ballistic missile launch. Another US official remarked: “It’s a failed test. It followed another failed test. We don’t need to expend any resources against that.”
The responses of US officials and the concurrence of the failed detonation with the arrival of the US vice president suggest that North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs are closely monitored by US intelligence, electronic and cyber tools. A previous North missile launch on April 5 suffered an in-flight failure before the weapon crashed into the Sea of Japan. There was also an unsuccessful missile launch in late March.
Out of a basketful of aggressive options, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence experts pick the four most likely methods the Americans may have applied to thwart the latest North missile launch:
1. Sabotage of the missile’s fuel, guidance, or communications systems, or of its exterior or the launch pad.
Method: Cutting of cables or fuel lines, changing the flight system’s programming, etc.
Possible perpetrators: Engineers secretly collaborating with the US or those motivated by hatred, jealousy or other factors.
2. Sabotage of the missile’s command and control system, such as changing its flight commands, ignition system, or ordering it to self-destruct, as is done to avoid landing in an unintended location or falling into enemy hands.
Method: Secretly planting instructions in the command and control system, or interfering with the controllers in charge of sending instructions to the missile
Possible perpetrators: mission control staff or military engineers involved in the composition of the command and control programs.
3. Electronic warfare against the command and control systems in the mission control center by sending powerful electromagnetic pulses to disrupt communications with the missile.
Method: US warships, surveillance planes or satellites
Possible perpetrators: US army or navy
4. A cyberattack against the missile’s control system that changes the electronic commands and downs the missile
Method: Planting of malware that enables the attackers to seize control of the computer system without being detected
Possible perpetrators: US intelligence agencies, first and foremost the National Security Agency.