U.S. officials say that activity at a North Korean missile testing facility could indicate that the country is planning a potential long-range missile test in the near future.
The suspicions are based on overhead satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on North Korea’s western coast. North Korea used the facility in December, 2012 to test a rocket it said had launched a satellite into earth orbit but which American officials described as a ruse to test intercontinental ballistic missile technology. U.S. analysis determined that North Korea failed to launch a third stage into orbit.
One U.S. official says the recent activity detected at the Sohae facility includes the arrival of what could possibly be rocket fuel and possible missile components.
The analysis is complicated by the extreme lengths North Korea has taken to hide activity at the launch site from American spy satellites.
That includes building an underground rail head to hide what components might be arriving at the site.
Also, a cover has been placed around the site’s launch gantry which makes it difficult to tell if missile parts are being stacked inside.
The officials cautioned that while the activity could signal a possible missile test, it could also be that North Korea is simply testing some of its facilities at the launch site.
One official said that if North Korea declares publicly that it is testing a satellite then it will likely issue a notice to airmen and mariners in advance of a test which would provide clues as to a possible launch date.
A North Korean missile test would be seen as yet another provocative action by Kim Jong Un’s regime, especially three weeks after an underground nuclear test of what North Korea claimed was a hydrogen bomb.
The U.S. has discounted that claim noting that the explosive yield from the blast was measured in the single digits and not the megatons that would have been produced by a hydrogen bomb.
Officials tell ABC News that subsequent atmospheric testing conducted by a specialized WC-135 Air Force plane "sniffing" for radioactive isotopes has proven inconclusive. One official says there is also a debate among technical experts about the depth at which the North Korean blast was conducted.