“….their inability to foresee the North’s rapid strides over the past several months now ranks among America’s most significant failures,” that is how a New York Times report sums up the feeling. The Times report is based on assessment and interviews of former and current US officials.
The hard-hitting report says when Donald Trump began his presidency last year, he was told by the US intelligence community that a North Korean Inter-continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the US mainland with a nuclear warhead was at least four years away, maybe six, by 2020 or 2022. They made similar assessment about North Korea’s efforts to detonate a hydrogen bomb that they calculated was years away.
Only that they happened within months, shocking the US intelligence community and the whole world.
On 4th July last year, the US Independence Day, North Korea test launched its first ICBM with a range of over 4000 miles, and the feat was surprising successful, as analysed by experts and intelligence community the world over. The US military base at Guam in the Western Pacific was now within the striking range of a North Korean missile.
On 28th July, it test fired another ICBM with a range of around 7000 miles and the US West Coast including cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle came into the North Korean striking range.
And on 28th November, it launched its most advanced and longest range ICBM yet, with a range of over 8000 miles, capable enough of hitting Washington and whole America.
As if these missile launches were not enough, to compound the humiliation of the US intelligence community, North Korea detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear bomb, in fact a hydrogen bomb, on 3rd September last year. It was again surprisingly successful with analysts assessing that it was 15 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atom bomb.
In fact, the pace at which North Korea has achieved technological breakthroughs and military advances in 2017 has astonished the world. The country has now declared itself a nuclear power and openly resorts to nuclear blackmail to take on international sanctions being imposed on it for its continued missile and nuclear programme.
HOW NORTH KOREA DODGED THE US AND THE WORLD
The US intelligence estimates about North Korean missile and nuclear programme were based on their past experiences of handling the country.
In April 2012, when Kim Jong-Un, the newly elevated North Korean dictator, tried to show the world his country’s prowess in ICBM technology with a satellite launch, the result was a disaster as the rocket exploded soon after its launch.
Though the rogue country continued with its missile and nuclear programme, failures piled up. In 2016, seven of the eight of North Korean Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) test launches failed, the Times report says. The failures, fuelled by elaborate sabotage programmes run by the US government, made its intelligence officials go with their assessment that the North was still few years away from achieving any breakthrough in its military aspirations.
But they failed to gauge the elaborate counter move by North Korea.
The success of North Korea’s missile and nuclear programme in 2017 proves Kim Jong-Un was running parallel missile programmes, may be to experiment more to plug the lapses of recurring failures in the existing technology his country was using or may be simply to dodge the global intelligence spying on the country. He also increased efforts manifold to build missile parts and fuel indigenously to take on international sanctions and sabotage efforts.
The successful test launches of 2017 are driven by a new missile technology based on an old Soviet design that is more reliable and potent, the Times says. What he did that stunned the world was the speed with which his country mastered the new missile technology as it is believed that North Korea abandoned its old missile technology and started working on the new one just a 14 months ago, in October 2016.
SOME OTHER VITAL NORTH KOREA MISSES BY US INTELLIGENCE
It is not the first time that the US administration was caught off guard by intel failure on North Korea. In 2006, when North Korea had conducted its first nuclear test, the US could come to know only an hour before the test, and that too, when China informed about it.
In 2007, Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor in Syria which was being built by North Korea. America was surprised when Israel showed the photograph of the under construction reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Israel found the structure was a plutonium nuclear reactor and photographed many North Korean scientists and workers there.
In 2010, when North Korea successfully finished building uranium enrichment plant in its Yongbyon nuclear complex, the US was again surprised as the said nuclear complex was under constant satellite surveillance.
And, as the world knows now, 2017 has eclipsed all those failures, when we talk about the scale of US intelligence blunders on North Korea.