Tunnels Camouflaged At N. Korea Nuclear Test Site

Are latest developments sign of impeding test or simply designed to mislead observers?
February 1st, 2013

North Korea has covered the entrance to one of the tunnels at its underground nuclear site in an apparent effort to avoid satellite monitoring as it makes final preparations for an imminent nuclear test, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Friday, citing intelligence sources.

“Analysis showed a camouflage net looking like a roof was placed on the tunnel entrance,” said an anonymous source. “The move seems to be aimed at keeping nuclear test preparations near their completion from being exposed outside.”

Another source, who also requested anonymity, told Yonhap that the cover may be aimed at confusing outside watchers before detonating the nuclear device. “It seems like a disturbing tactic, similar to one that was used when the North prepared for a long-range rocket in December last year.”

In December, observers were caught off-guard by what turned out to be a surprise North Korean rocket launch. Satellite analysis at North Korea-watching site 38 North had predicted a launch much later in the month based on movements around the launch facility and pronouncements by the DPRK leadership.

Some suggest that North Korea is acutely aware of the time that Western satellites pass above its airspace, meaning that it would not be hard for Pyongyang to confuse and send staged messages of intent by moving trucks, cranes, or canopies. One North Korea watcher who requested anonymity this morning told NK NEWS:

That so much of North Korea’s rocket and nuclear behavior is now scrutinized by public intelligence specialists makes it in some ways even easier for Pyongyang to proactively mislead the world media. The guys in Pyongyang read this material just like our own intelligence officials do.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military appears to be boosting its monitoring capabilities in preparation for North Korea’s expected third nuclear test, amassing surveillance aircraft at a base in Okinawa Prefecture, in southwestern Japan.

According to Japan’s NHK News, a WC-135 plane, which can collect radioactive particles released into the atmosphere by a nuclear test, arrived at the Kadena air base in mid-January. And a RC-135 electronics reconnaissance plane was also reported to have flown on Thursday morning, a model designed to collect communication data.

In South Korea a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine arrived in the city of Jinhae for joint naval drills with the ROK navy. However, a Joint Chief of Staff chairman told Yonhap reporters, “The upcoming drill, which had already been planned, is not targeted for (North Korea’s) nuclear test.”

Worried about the increasing state of military readiness designed to deter or respond a third nuclear test, Moscow today hit out at several of the countries bolstering up their capacities in the region. A Foreign Ministry source told Interfax News, “we would not like to see additional military contingents and weapons systems that far exceed the boundaries of reasonable sufficiency deployed in the region under the pretext of taking security measures in the face of a nuclear and missile threat from North Korea”.

While disclosing no further information about the date of any third nuclear test, North Korea rounded off the day’s reporting by echoing its new policy once again, that “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is impossible unless the world is denuclearized.”

If fears of a third test realize in the coming days or weeks, tensions will dramatically increase on the peninsula and it is likely that the UN Security Council will respond with more tightening of sanctions.

North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests in the past, in 2006 and 2009, but has given no time-frame for its third test.

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.