I’ve been a little reluctant to write about the preparations for the Taepodong 2 launch.
The press—especially the Japanese press—is filled with a huge amount of disinformation that really complicates things.
Japanese news sources reported that North Korean television told North Koreans to “raise the national flag” and watch television for a “message to the people”—a claim that appears to have been an outright fabrication: The Open Source Center noted that … “DPRK media sources are carrying their regularly scheduled programming and news feeds and have not been observed to report on the alleged ‘North Korean leadership’ ‘instruction’ …”
South Korean officials, presumably repeating intel provided by the US, are providing all kinds of suspiciously specific detail from the number of fuel barrels (the strangely biblical 40), missile mass (65 tons )m, length and diameter (35×2.2 meters), stages (2), etc.
So, let’s look at what we know:
Early reports, particularly this article by Demetri Sevastapulo, suggested that activity near the test site was disconcerting but ambiguous.
For an example of the kind of available overhead imagery, Global Security.org bought some June 9 images of the launch pad near Taep’odong. As you can readily see, the “activity” in Demetri’s article was the presence of vehicles and the like—there is no missile on the launch pad.
Enter Helene Cooper about a week later. Cooper, rapidly becoming the stenographer of choice for Condi Rice, quoted one US official as saying “all systems are ‘go’ and fueling appears to be done”—preparations that three senior U.S. officials later told Glenn Kessler “are based on incomplete intelligence.”
It seems plausible that a missile is now sitting on the launch pad with some vehicles around—but that is about it.
I will try to write a little more, later, about what we know about North Korea’s missile efforts.