The United States reportedly had North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in its sights last week prior to Pyongyang’s successful intercontinental ballistic missile test.
According to a source speaking with The Diplomat’s North Korean expert Ankit Panda, the U.S. surveilled the Hwasong-14 test site, where Kim was pictured before the launch, for more than an hour on July 4.
“[T]he United States observed the missile on the launch pad near Pukchang Airport for about 70 minutes prior to its firing,” Panda writes.
Photos and video of the test launch later released by North Korean state run media showed Kim wandering just feet from the projectile, even smoking a cigarette next to the liquid-fueled missile.
Kim Jong-un just casually strolling around while the Hwasong-14 ICBM is erected is quite something. (Wouldn't want a VIP that close.) pic.twitter.com/a3FDIenZYU
— Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) July 5, 2017
While details of the alleged surveillance remain limited, one analyst suggests the Trump administration may be broadcasting both its ability to dismantle the Kim regime and willingness to pursue diplomatic channels.
In comments to Business Insider, Rodger Baker, the lead analyst of Asia Pacific and South Asia at Stratfor, stated that although its “fairly standard that the US didn’t strike the missile ahead of the launch,” public knowledge of the surveillance could be a signal to Pyongyang that U.S. intelligence is watching.
“By letting North Korea know it watched Kim as he prepared for one of his country’s most provocative missile tests ever, Baker says, the US may have sent two powerful messages,” Business Insider’s Alex Lockie writes.
“If the US demonstrates it’s not intent on killing Kim, that could communicate that there’s ‘no need to continue’ the missile program, according to Baker.”
Although only one-third of North Korea is said to be under spy satellite coverage at any given moment, the reported successful tracking of Kim could cause the hereditary dictator to question his next move, Lockie argues.
“Perhaps rather than kill Kim and trigger a North Korean response, which could be massive, the US elected to signal that the best path to regime security would be to stay indoors and not play around near dangerous rocket engines, which have a habit of blowing up.”