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The Military

How Online Clues Located North Korea's Missile-Launcher Factories 71

Posted by timothy
from the follow-the-contrails-backwards dept.
itwbennett writes "It all started with a parade through Pyongyang on April 15, 2012, held to commemorate the birthday of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung. At this parade, one thing had analysts buzzing: six mobile launchers carrying KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missiles. Bloggers in China quickly noted the similarities between the trucks and those used by the Chinese military, right down to the shape of the windows and the grille pattern. It's the stuff of spy thrillers. A few seconds of video, literature, a couple of memoirs and Google Earth helped locate a secret North Korean military plant — and using none of the classified tools of the intelligence trade."
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How Online Clues Located North Korea's Missile-Launcher Factories

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @12:20PM (#46219025)

    "This is the world of open-source intelligence."

    Remind me again as to how reddit foiled the Boston Marathon Bombing plot?

  • Tom Clancy would be proud of that one.

    Open Sources to find state secrets is somewhat impressive.

    Maybe the NSA just needs to learn how to use Google a little better instead of just spying on all of us.

    • by gtall (79522)

      Yep, all the U.S. needs to do is rely on its enemies being stupid enough to leak the information to the interwebs in videos. All secret information is known to be kept in video format for use by academics interested in non-proliferation.

      • by icebike (68054)

        You leap to the assumption that this place isn't known to the US military, or isn't already on someone's target list. People who know what they are looking for probably have have traffic analysis on this place better than the two different photo dates that Google Earth has.

        The utter lack of activity near the site, the lack of raw materials stacked up near by, the poor conditions of the roads (especially near the second plant), lack of a rail spur, all suggest this place is in very limited production, or en

    • Open source intelligence is big in the NSA world. Just see http://das.doit.wisc.edu/

  • Oh, really? (Score:5, Informative)

    by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @12:36PM (#46219183)

    carrying KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missiles

    Last I checked, those KN-08 ICBM's were mock-ups, not real missiles.

    Note that apparently the KN-08 is a liquid-fueled ICBM, which means it is completely useless for defensive purposes (you don't store liquid fueled missiles fueled-up, you fuel them just before launch - which would take too long to allow them to be used to react to an attack), and only really useful for a first strike.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Like the directly-stated stance of NATO on the response to a hypothetical Soviet invasion of Europe, though, I imagine such weapons are rather more useful than "completely useless" in defense (including deterrence) against conventional-weapons aggression.
    • The KN-08 missiles on show were training rounds - you don't want live ordnance, even made safe, in a parade.

      And there are many liquid fuelled missiles which dont need fuelling at the last moment.

    • Re:Oh, really? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by erice (13380) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @01:54PM (#46220061) Homepage

      Note that apparently the KN-08 is a liquid-fueled ICBM, which means it is completely useless for defensive purposes (you don't store liquid fueled missiles fueled-up, you fuel them just before launch - which would take too long to allow them to be used to react to an attack), and only really useful for a first strike.

      Not necessarily. Titan II used liquid fuel and could be kept fully fueled in the silo indefinitely.

      Atlas could be fueled in 15 minutes. Late variants reduced this further but loading the kerosene in times of high tension, which could remain in the rocket for long periods, and only waiting to the last minute to load the liquid oxygen. These versions were also kept in silos so they were only vulnerable during the time needed to load the oxidizer.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      I suggest you look at storable liquid fueled rockets. The Titan II and SS-18 are two examples of liquid fueled rockets that could be stored fueled.

  • ... revealed the location of its missile-launcher factories." The real story is not how clever the researchers were (though they were clever), but how stupid North Korea's government is.

    • by icebike (68054)

      Why would you say this was stupid?
      They were clearly making a propaganda video, in 2012.

      The plants (both of them) were there as early as 2004. In fact the first plant already looked abandoned in 2004.
      So as far as is publicly known, these plants remained hidden for in excess of 15 or perhaps 20 years. Probable long after the missiles became obsolete, even by Nork standards.

      The construction of these plants use was probably already know by the the US military when they went up. After all, they are the larges

  • Open Source? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bobbied (2522392) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @12:42PM (#46219300)

    Ah, come on. Open source intelligence? What's unusual about this?

    I remember from Tom Clancy's "Clear and Present Danger" where the CIA was watching Cable News, getting lots of information from what was freely available from the likes of CNN and Fox. I also remember watching CNN reporting from Down Town Baghdad while the US was dropping bombs at the start of desert storm. Can you say instant BDA on the raid? "Yes, our power just went out! Good thing we have battery powered equipment so we can show you what's happening next to ground zero. Oh wow, Baghdad TV just went off the air too!" You know that this often happens in real life.

    What's important about this story is that the North Koreans messed up, assuming they intended to keep this development a secret. Somehow, I doubt they made a mistake, but this release was calculated, knowing that the west would figure out what's going on. They are simply too controlling.

    • by Havokmon (89874)

      Ah, come on. Open source intelligence? What's unusual about this?

      I remember from Tom Clancy's "Clear and Present Danger" where the CIA was watching Cable News, getting lots of information from what was freely available from the likes of CNN and Fox. I also remember watching CNN reporting from Down Town Baghdad while the US was dropping bombs at the start of desert storm. Can you say instant BDA on the raid? "Yes, our power just went out! Good thing we have battery powered equipment so we can show you what's happening next to ground zero. Oh wow, Baghdad TV just went off the air too!" You know that this often happens in real life.

      What's important about this story is that the North Koreans messed up, assuming they intended to keep this development a secret. Somehow, I doubt they made a mistake, but this release was calculated, knowing that the west would figure out what's going on. They are simply too controlling.

      The assumption is that the west didn't know anything about it. I bet the CIA has rooms full of people going over satellite images of North Korea that would make Google Maps look like something Magellan used.

      I would be surprised if the west didn't know about it.

      Now, that's totally different from discovering the Icelandic military (is there one?) has ICBMs. I would assume that's not a place we're actively looking to protect ourselves from.

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        That building is not a missile factory, it is a maintenance and check out building. North Korea has bad weather so using a building for check out would make a lot of sense.

      • by icebike (68054)

        Exactly.

        Nothing in this story or the linked TFA, or links in the TFA to other TFAs suggests this is unknown to the military.
        And it wouldn't take CIA to find it, regular military are doing a lot of photo analysis, both in computers and with eyeballs.

        Further, the suggestion that the Norks "messed up". If they "messed up" it was letting the defector live to mention this town in his memoirs.

        For example, Ko Chong Song, a North Korean defector, published a book in Japan describing the locations of defense enterprises, stating Pyongyang produces “missile launchers” at the No. 81 Factory located in the “Chungsonggan workers’ district, Songgan County, Chagang Province, about 2.5 to 3 kilometers from Songgan-up".

        Another account, posted online by an anti-DPRK dissident group, describes a gruesome incident of cannibalism at the “No.11 munitions factory (Hakmu worker’s district 6 km northwest of Jonchon, Jagang) where missile launchers are manufactured”

        (Starvation might explain what looks like graves on the grounds of the first discovered plant located at 40.64565, 126.43

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        I would be surprised if the west didn't know about it.

        Yup, unless there was something to be gained by letting them know this would fall into the category of "keeping them guessing." If you announce that you know about 47 important targets, then you are potentially divulging that you don't know about the other 13 targets that you didn't mention, and of course you invite the other side to move those 47 things to a place where you won't find it.

        No doubt many (but not all) things of importance that NK possesses are on US target lists, and there are plans so that

    • by X0563511 (793323)

      You do realize that Tom Clancy's fiction novels are, well, fiction?

      • by bobbied (2522392)

        Yes, but I've had more than one person who was "in the know" about specific classified things tell me that Tom Clancy had an uncanny ability to somehow come up with fiction that matched reality too close and too often to be just a coincidence. I think he did a lot of careful research but he was also given information about some things he shouldn't have known as well.

        But that begs the question why would he be given such information? I think the answer is more complex than it looks at first blush. I actual

        • by icebike (68054)

          Yes, but I've had more than one person who was "in the know" about specific classified things tell me that Tom Clancy had an uncanny ability to somehow come up with fiction that matched reality too close and too often to be just a coincidence.

          I suggest your "someone in the know" actually knows less then you think.

          Clancy was investigated by military intelligence, and they couldn't find anything but a diligent researcher who could spin publicly known facts into excellent stories. He probably had more info from the writings of Russian defectors than from American sources.

          • by bobbied (2522392)

            It's just a theory of mine. Yea it's *possible* he just came up with all this stuff, he's a bright guy and all, but he is frighteningly close in some cases where I have first hand knowledge. Personally, and in the opinion of some folks that I've talked to, there is a bit more than clever observation going on.

            At the very least, he's had detailed conversations with people who should have been a bit more careful. They may not have found a specific instance of leaking information to him, but in total he's be

        • Yes, but I've had more than one person who was "in the know" about specific classified things tell me that Tom Clancy had an uncanny ability to somehow come up with fiction that matched reality too close and too often to be just a coincidence. I think he did a lot of careful research but he was also given information about some things he shouldn't have known as well.

          A few facts, some intelligent guesses, and extrapolation from that can sometimes take you a long way.

          Inside the Making of 'Dr. Strangelove' @2 [youtube.com]

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        Tom Clancy didn't think so.

        And you realize that your argument is essentially stating that cars aren't real if someone talks about the cars from Fast and Furious.

        The flipper cars from Fast and Furious 6 were real. They built one and intended to use stunt ramps and such to augment the flipping qualities. But the thing actually worked, and worked so well, they re-wrote the script to get more flipping in, because it was such a cool effect, and without any props or CGI.

        Yes, the plot was fiction, but the c
    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      What's important about this story is that the North Koreans messed up, assuming they intended to keep this development a secret. Somehow, I doubt they made a mistake, but this release was calculated, knowing that the west would figure out what's going on. They are simply too controlling.

      They obviously did not intend to keep the existence of these rockets, nor the use of Chinese trucks as launch base, a secret. Those were on full display on the military parade.

      They may not be so happy though to have the exact location out in the open. Here is where they messed up. While it's no surprise to be in their main military production area (a city that's not in official maps - but likely well marked on US military maps), the exact location of the actual buildings is another matter. Too eager to show

  • A few seconds of video, literature, a couple of memoirs and Google Earth helped locate a secret North Korean military plant

    More like "helped a couple of bloggers locate...". There's no reason to doubt that the US and China already knew about it. Still says a lot about how much information is online these days.

    • by plover (150551)

      A few seconds of video, literature, a couple of memoirs and Google Earth helped locate a secret North Korean military plant

      More like "helped a couple of bloggers locate...". There's no reason to doubt that the US and China already knew about it. Still says a lot about how much information is online these days.

      The thing I wonder about is if making this information public did much damage to Western military plans. Assuming the West knew about it, they already had it loaded into their targeting systems. If the DPRK believed this factory was secret, they would be unaware that the hammer was poised to smash it. Now they may rebuild it in a new secret location, and until it's rediscovered by the intelligence agencies, it may not be properly targeted.

  • Last I checked, the term "open source" referred to "a development model promotes a) universal access via free license to a product's design or blueprint, and b) universal redistribution of that design or blueprint, including subsequent improvements to it by anyone" (Wikipedia). It does not mean "a process for creating online content using information which is freely available." It is worth noting that Google Earth and YouTube, the main tools used, are not open source. Just because something happens on the i

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Then, you need to check better.

      Getting information from "Open Sources" goes back decades, because if you could read it in the paper, see it on the news, or look out your window ... that was an "open source".

      Collecting and using publicly available information for intelligence gathering predates your definition of 'open source' -- it was a term used in the second world war.

      Sorry, but you're just plain wrong on this one. Long before it defined a software development model, it described means of gathering int

      • Interesting, it does indeed appear that "open source intelligence" is a separate term, distinct from "open source software." I see from the Wikipedia article on Open Source, that the term was first formally adopted vis a vis software in 1998. The page for Open Source Intelligence links to a corporate whitepaper from 1997 using the term "open source intelligence," which suggests that this term predates "open source software." I wonder if the OSS people knew about that usage when they chose the term.

        Do you kn

  • Or...follow the trucks and see where they park. Wow, such spy skills!
    • by icebike (68054)

      There are no trucks anywhere to be seen in the sources used. In fact the plants look almost abandoned on Google Earth.

  • You found where they parked the trucks two years ago. You know Google Earth isn't real-time eh?

    • by Hadlock (143607)

      Liquid oxygen (part one of a two part fuel solution these devices use, part 2 being highly refined kerosene, or "RP-1") requires specialized holding facilities and due to it's temperature can't be stored on a truck for more than a couple of days in any usable quantities, which means their "home base" can't be more than 10-15 miles away. That's still a big area, but pretty easy to monitor with satellite photography.

      • by icebike (68054)

        This is a factory that builds these trucks, or stores them. (There is very little indication on Google Earth that these plants are still in active use).

        There isn't a shred of evidence they are deployed there.

  • From the article
    "and the lack of any low-level windows indicated the building was either partially buried or blocked in"

    That's quite an intuitive leap.. most warehouses and factories in N. America have this same feature except none are partially buried or blocked. It's done for security, secrecy and efficiency. They don't want anyone looking in or out.
    • by icebike (68054)

      Yup, they got a lot wrong. Looking at the Google earth images you can see that they were not blocked in.
      Why would you put ground level windows in a secret plant?

  • Next steps (Score:4, Funny)

    by sunking2 (521698) on Tuesday February 11, 2014 @02:18PM (#46220439)
    Launch some missiles at it, wait for reports to come in on N.K.s largest indoor wedding reception hall being destroyed.
  • ... of freely available information is one of the tools of the intelligence trade. Besides piping your personal data into government computers, there are probably a few departments that spend their days reading international newspapers.
  • by Tablizer (95088)

    I bet there is a building there with all my missing half-paired socks. Time to get googlin'

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