With Technology, These Researchers Are Figuring Out North Korea’s Nuclear Secrets

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November 21, 2017

The following is an excerpt from The Washington Post.

MONTEREY, Calif. — There were reports going around last month that North Korea had tested another solid-fuel missile engine, a type of engine that can be deployed much faster than the older liquid-fueled ones.

Kim Jong Un’s media outlets hadn’t bragged about it — as they had done in previous tests — so the experts at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies’ nonproliferation center got to work.

They figured that the North Korean rocket scientists would have used the same immovable concrete block they used for an engine test last year.

Dave Schmerler — a researcher nicknamed “Geolocation Jesus” by Jeffrey Lewis, who runs the center’s East Asia program — had quickly located the site of the earlier test.

He’d made 3-D models of the buildings in the North Korean photos and noted the surroundings. Then he’d taken official reports about Kim’s recent public activities — in that case, the leader had just been to a machinery plant near Hamhung on the east coast — and wham, he pinpointed the exact building on Google Earth.

Technology is making it possible for open-source analysts to do the kind of work previously the preserve of intelligence agencies and, in the process, learn all sorts of things about one of the most impenetrable countries in the world — one that wants to send nuclear-tipped missiles to the United States.

In addition to Lewis’s team in Monterey, satellite imagery analysts Curtis Melvin and Joseph Bermudez are publishing their findings on the website 38 North, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS.

“Back in the day, if the government told you something, you had to believe it. That’s how we got the Iraq War,” said the voluble Lewis. “Our animating principle is that having a robust public debate about nuclear and missile technology in other countries is going to lead to better policies.”

Read the full article at The Washington Post.

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