Monterey, calif. — for untrained people, mundane things offer surprising insight into independent analysts who track north Korea’s military capabilities.
Information flows out of the country is so rare that experts often turn to open source for clues. This is especially true for people who operate outside the government in so-called parallel intelligence communities.
Geoffrey lewis in middletown, institute of international studies at the team spent years studying satellite images, the military parade and propaganda, want to collect reveal trivia and grasp the newest trend of north Korea.
For example, the serial number of a missile-bearing crane recently helped lewis infer the range of the weapon – leading him to believe it could hit the continental United States.
Photos released by north Korea show that its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile allows lewis’s team to identify the manufacturer and model of the crane. They searched online and found the crane’s length and load capacity – which allowed them to infer the weight and range of the missile.
Kim jong UN’s regime tested the missile in November. If it opened fire at a lower Angle, some experts believe it could have a range of 8,100 miles, allowing the continental United States to arrive.
Pyongyang’s own video also allows lewis to measure the size and speed of any fired missile – two variables showing the power of its engine. From there they simulate the performance of the missile, so they can predict whether it will reach New York or Los Angeles even if it is launched vertically.
Mr Lewis’s team is also riddled with claims of power in north Korea. It is said that a video released in January 2016 showed that the successful launch of a missile by a submarine was actually a combination of two different launches of video. The submarine launch did fail: the missile exploded after ignition. But the official video was intercepted and succeeded by video from the successful “scud” missile launched in June 2014.
However, open source analysis has its limitations.
“The intelligence community has access to the best satellites in the world, from radar to thermal to multispectrum,” explains Joseph s. Bermudez Jr., a senior analyst at Johns Hopkins university’s project 38 North. Government officials also have access to signals and sources around the world.
“You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people in the intelligence community dealing with a problem, not a half-dozen,” Bermudez said. “there’s a difference.”
Last September, north Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test and the first miniaturized hydrogen bomb, aimed at long-range missiles.
Installing nuclear warheads on long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles is the next challenge for north Korea. But lewis said it was a question of when Pyongyang would get there.
He believes that only a “time machine” could prevent north Korea from developing the ability to attack the United States with nuclear weapons.
“No country can make an intercontinental ballistic missile, but it’s not clear what the rest of it is,” lewis said.
He says it is useless to talk about preventive strikes because the regime is far away.
For Mr Lewis, the only viable option for the us and its Allies is to accept a nuclear-armed north Korea and focus on the common good: avoiding nuclear war. That means reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula – a difficult task, even though north Korea is “not the world’s greatest neighbour”.
Mr Lewis’s view is not consistent with the views of national security adviser human resources McMaster, who said in December that the us “cannot tolerate the risk of nuclear arms in Pyongyang”. “Acceptance and deterrence are not acceptable,” he said, adding that denuclearization is still the policy target of the United States and north Korea said in a public statement that it wanted the official end of the Korean war. The conflict stopped in the 1953 armistice, but no peace treaty was signed. It also does not want to fully normalize relations with the United States and to be treated with respect and equality on the global stage.
Mr Lewis believes that Kim jong-il is worried about a us-led regime change that would cut Libya’s muammar qaddafi and Iraq’s saddam hussein down. This makes the nuclear program a safeguard against overturning, and a priority in the eyes of king.
For Mr Lewis, America’s best hope is that a nuclear-armed north Korea wants to be left alone. A worse scenario would be a heavy, active regime, sunken south Korean ships and shell Japan islands.
It remains to be seen whether the United States will respond to north Korea’s test of a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile – a necessary step before it can claim to be able to attack the United States with nuclear weapons.
While President Donald trump threatens north Korea’s “fire and anger”, lewis believes that the cost of nuclear war – millions of deaths – will prevent the government from reaching that point.