U.S. failed to predict North Korea rocket launch

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The three stages of North Korea's rocket launch
CBS News

(CBS News) North Korea, a hermit dictatorship that cannot always feed its people, has become the 13th nation to orbit a satellite. The success of Wednesday night means the nuclear armed nation has a rocket capable of reaching as far as the United States.

U.S. intelligence failed to detect signs the North Korean launch was imminent.

Officials insist that made no difference in the ability of the American missile defense system to track the rocket as it jettisoned its first stage in the Yellow Sea as planned, and its second in the Philippine Sea before boosting what the North Koreans say is a weather satellite into polar orbit.

U.S. Navy ships in the Pacific and missile defense crews in Colorado had already been placed on alert and did not require warning of a launch. Had the rocket been fired on a trajectory that threatened the United States, officials say interceptors based in Alaska and California would have been ready to shoot it down.

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Still, these officials say they are now trying to determine whether North Korea deliberately disguised its launch plans, or whether U.S. intelligence simply missed the final preparations.

Last April, a similar rocket failed two minutes after launch. This time, North Korea announced it was experiencing technical difficulties and would need to extend the launch window to the end of the month. Whether those difficulties were real or fake, the rocket was quickly prepared for launch without U.S. intelligence detecting it had been fully fueled.

The satellite is now circling the Earth, and is likely to stay up for a year or two, although it appears the North Koreans are having trouble controlling it.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.