Jeffrey LewisIC Surprised at NORK Test?

… well, that’s what anonymous senior intelligence official told FOX news:

North Korea’s decision to detonate a nuclear device underground Monday caught the United States by surprise, officials said.

“They didn’t give us any warning whatsoever,” one senior U.S. intelligence official who works on North Korean issues told FOX News.

Another intelligence official, as well as a source with access to intelligence data, told FOX News the North Koreans notified the United States of the impending test within an hour of the detonation.

Reuters reported that the communist country made no demands, and passed on the message that it would carry out the test through diplomats at the United Nations in New York City.

The senior intelligence official said that even after the demonstration at the Punggye nuclear test site, the only evidence of activity that analysts could see in aerial imagery was a “couple of spoil sites,” or large holes.

“We saw some activity” at Punggye prior to the test, the official said. But the activity was not as intense as that which normally precedes a detonation, so few anticipated such an action at this time. “They are really good at hiding things from us.”

I don’t know about this — Greg Miller and Julian Barnes reported the IC “witnessed significant activity in the days before the explosion.”

Josh has speculated on the what sort of surprise we had — and specifically if it was an intelligence failure, as the anonymous senior intelligence official implies. Josh thinks not, and I tend to agree:

There is an[other] option as well: the intel collectors saw all the signs, but the higher-ups failed to draw the proper conclusions.


As noted previously, there appears to have been a firm and widely held conviction that North Korea would not test again until it had more plutonium in hand. Potential indications of an imminent test may have been discounted on that basis.


  1. Major Lemon (History)

    “conviction” in security matters is the same as a straight jacket.

  2. J House (History)

    If it is true that it was missed,this would be another in a long list of USIC technical and analytic failures.

    The UN has no reliable way to enforce the maritime inspection of NK cargo (nor airborne), unless they use force.
    Therefore, it has no teeth.

    As the sanctions tighten, Nk will need the cash and will be encouraged to ship banned cargo.

    I find it remarkable that the WH and State have now taken the position that NK wants nuclear weapons as a deterrent, and not a bargaining chip.
    No kidding. So does Iran.

    Now, what are they going to do about it, other than ‘threaten’ UN inpections of NK maritime cargo?
    Didn’t NK already have the last word when they kicked UN inspectors out?