Intelligence analysts originally estimated the range of the test at 950 miles, but after reviewing additional data they decided over the weekend that the missile could launch a small warhead more than 3300 miles -- far enough to hit targets in Alaska, although not the lower 48 states.
Just last July, a panel headed by former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that the U.S. could be caught by surprise.
"We see an environment of little or no warning of ballistic missile threats to the United States from several emerging powers," said Rumsfeld.
The North Korean missile was thought to be a two-stage missile. In fact, it had three stages. The third stage was used in an unsuccessful attempt to put a satellite into orbit. The missile was powerful enough to carry a warhead nearly four times farther than the original estimate.
Intelligence officials point out that the third stage failed and that in any event the missile is not very accurate. Still, no one denies this is a nasty surprise from a country which routinely trumpets its hatred of the U.S. and is thought to have both biological and chemical weapons - in addition to enough plutonium for at least one nuclear weapon.
Reported by David Martin
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