Tuesday, July 04, 2006

4th of July Damb Squib

North Korea has test-launched either two or three missiles which may or may not have been the legendary Taepodong 2 long range missile so beloved of administration fearmongers. It all depends on which story you read.

The BBC:
Two missiles were thought to have been short-range and landed in the Sea of Japan minutes later, it was reported.

...A third long-range missile failed in flight, a source told Reuters news agency. CNN said it was the controversial Taepodong-2 missile.
Reuters UK
North Korea fired two missiles on Wednesday, Japanese NHK television reported.

NHK said one missile landed in the Japan Sea 600 km (370 miles) from the Japanese mainland. Shortly afterwards it quoted the Japanese Defence Ministry as saying North Korea had fired a second missile.

In Washington, a Pentagon official said North Korea appeared to have launched two Scud-type missiles and not long-range missiles that the United States had been monitoring.

U.S. sources said North Korea had launched a third, long-range missile but that it had failed in flight.

In Tokyo, a Japanese government official confirmed that a launch had taken place but said it was unclear if it was a ballistic Taepodong missile.

No further details were immediately available.
Reuters US
A long-range North Korean missile, apparently a Taepodong 2, failed 40 seconds after it was launched, a State Department official told Reuters on Tuesday.

"We believe it was the Taepodong 2," said the official, who asked not to be named. A senior Defense Department official said North Korea had launched at least three missiles, at least two of them short-range Scud-type missiles.

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said in a statement he was "urgently consulting" with other members of the 15-nation Security Council on the matter. U.S. officials said it was too early to decide whether to call a meeting.
AP News
North Korea launched a long-range missile Wednesday that may be capable of reaching the United States but it failed after 35 or 40 seconds, two State Department officials said.

The missile was one of at least three that were fired. The two others were short-range missiles. All landed in the Sea of Japan, said the Japanese government, which was unable to confirm that they included a long-range missile.

The officials in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the long-range missile was the Taepodong-2, North Korea's most advanced missile with a range of up to 9,320 miles.
So only the U.S. are so far saying that the third missile was launched and was indeed a Taepodong 2 and that it failed only 40 seconds into its flight - thus neatly removing any need for a potentially embarassing revelation of the missile shield's capabilities. Japan has excellent monitoring capabilities from ground, sea and space but it isn't saying the same thing - the Japanese are hedging on whether any of the launches were the infamous intercontinental bugbear and even on how many launches there were.

The BBC's "Breaking News" story earlier (the url has been updated with the story linked above within the last hour) actually said that the Japanese didn't think the launch had been of a Taepodong 2 but rather of a Taepodong 1 - a much shorter ranged missile and one already familiar to the West.

I wrote two weeks ago that "the ability of the "missile defense shield" to hit a barn door at 20 paces is questionable at best and the intention/ability of NK to launch a new ballistic missile is of the same order of credibility." It seems I was at least partially correct on the latter no matter which type of Taepongdo missile was tested - the thing blew up after 40 seconds and its by no means clear NK intended anything more than a further test of the Taepongdo -1, if that. Its actually even better news if it was a Mark One since it shows the North Koreans don't even have the technology for that down pat yet and so are unlikely to be anywhere near ready to test a Mark 2. But I fully expect the invertebrate press and the militant Right to announce long and loud that some official leaker from State who doesn't have enough confidence in what he is saying to let his name be used is, of course, utterly right.

I don't know about you, but I smell an excuse for sabre-rattling. Obviously, so does John Bolton.

Update Wow. Reuters has this ten minutes ago:
A Pentagon official told Reuters North Korea appeared also to have launched at least two small Scud-type missiles, but not the intercontinental ballistic missile that has been a focus of international concern.

"This appears not to be the launch of the missile that's been so widely reported of late," said the official, who asked not to named. He referred to the small missiles as "lesser variety" Scud types.

The official spoke before reports that the third, long-range Taepodong missile firing had been reported. [Emphasis Mine]
Remember, those later reports came from some nameless goon at State, not the Pentagon's nameless goons. So what are we being told here? That the Pentagon doesn't have a hotline to NORAD but State does? I hear there's also a bridge for sale in Brooklyn...

Want to bet that the "heightened security precautions" at NORAD included any impartial observers or pressmen being asked to leave?

This story is being massaged by the administration to extract the maximum amount of fear and thus the maximum amount of political capital. I now have no doubt of that.

Update 5th July The missile count is now up to seven. That in itself is an incredible bit of provocation to the international community from a North Korean regime which is demonstrably bugf*ck crazy.

However, I still have the same problem with the Bush administration's version of the narrative. We're expected to believe that the only one that failed - in the boost phase no less so we can't tell a thing about its actual range - was the infamous Taepongdo - 2.

Look. Every single other missile was a shorter range Rodong-1 (a Scud copy). The Pentagon and the Japanese at first seemed confident the failed launch wasn't a Taepongdo-2. Then some faceless guy from State pops up and says it was - and everyone else scurries to get "on message". Color me sceptical.

Where's the proof the only missile that failed is the one that all the fearmongering has been about? Without that hard proof, I will take the Occam's Razor explanation - it was another Scud copy that just happened to fail on takeoff. The administration then decided to make political hay while the sun shines and the Pentagon and Japanese for a while got caught behind the story curve. It fits not only the events of yesterday but also this administration's history.

It amazes me that the invertebrate press corps, having been lied to over Iraqi WMD intelligence and so much more, goes on blithely presenting this administration as being trustable when it says anything at all. They should be picking at the gaps in the administration's storyline and demanding explanations. Instead they will take the administration at its belated word.

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