Intelligence agencies are closely watching a North Korean missile launch site amid signs a test-firing will take place in the next two months, U.S. officials said, echoing reports from South Korea and Japan.
One official said the indicators from the launch site appear to be “a replay of the April launch, hopefully with the same success.”
North Korea’s last Taeopodong-2 missile was test-fired April 13 in what defense officials said was a failure shortly after the first stage lifted off.
Commercial satellite images from Friday and made public by DigitalGlobe revealed increased activity associated with a forthcoming missile launch at the North Korea’s Dongchang-ri launch site in the northwestern part of the country.
The Taepodong-2 is a liquid-fueled missile capable of reaching parts of the United States, depending on the size of its warhead. It is not known if North Korea has nuclear missile warheads, but it has conducted at least two underground nuclear test blasts.
U.S. missile defenses are being prepared to counter the test-firing, should the missile threaten U.S. allies such as Japan or U.S. military forces in the region. The defenses include Aegis warships equipped with SM-3 anti-missile interceptors. Ground-based long-range interceptors based in Alaska and California also are being readied.
Other components of the missile-defense network include ground-, sea- and space-based sensors and radar used to detect missile launches and help guide interceptors to make high-speed hits on warheads.
Pentagon spokesman George Little declined to comment on the defense preparations.
The missile defense system was last activated prior to the test-firing in April.
North Korea signaled its intention to conduct another missile test in October in response to a U.S.-South Korea agreement that permits Seoul’s military to develop its own longer-range missile force.
After the Oct. 7 missile agreement was announced, North Korea’s National Defense Commission denounced it and stated three days later that it would “strengthen missile capabilities in every way.”
A Pyongyang government statement also said that new missile developments would “not leave the U.S. mainland safe” from attack.
For this reason, U.S. intelligence analysts believe the next test will be announced as a missile and not a satellite launch.
North Korea’s announcement in October also stated that its Strategic Rocket Forces are now capable of hitting U.S. and South Korean military targets on the Korean Peninsula.
The saber-rattling of its missile capabilities coincides with the first emergence of current leader Kim Jong-un in September 2010.
Officials said it does not appear that North Korea plans to test its new long-range road-mobile ICBM.
Intelligence reports from December 2011 revealed that Pyongyang was developing its first road-mobile ICBM capable of hitting the United States.
In June 2011, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said North Korea was becoming a “direct threat” to the United States as a result of the new mobile ICBM.
The Taepodong-2 is a launch-pad missile that North Korea has described as a space-launch vehicle to put satellites into orbit.
The Pentagon, however, considers the Taepodong-2 a long-range missile.
The number of Tibetans who have burned themselves to death protesting Chinese rule in Tibet increased sharply this month with 19 people immolating themselves.
Few of the protest burnings have captured public attention in the United States, but the actions demonstrate the seriousness of Tibetans in seeking an end to Chinese occupation of the Buddhist-dominated region west of China.
According to U.S. officials, 19 Tibetans carried out self-immolation protests so far this month, coinciding with the meeting of the Chinese Communist Party Congress that saw the shift in leadership from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping.
The most recent was the case of Tibetan herder Dazheng who set himself on fire in Dageri Village, in Qinghai Province on Friday.
A day earlier Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that Tibetan Tadin Kyab, 23, a former monk at the Shitsang Monastery died in Luqu Country in Gansu Province after setting himself on fire to protest Chinese rule.
There were 10 self-immolations in October, one in September, seven in August, and fewer than five per month from July to April. In March, coinciding with the 2008 protests in Tibet and western China, there were 11 self-immolations.
There have been what U.S. officials called an “unprecedented” series of burnings in Gansu Province, Qinhuai Province, Sichuan Province, and in what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Chinese troops took over Tibet in the late 1950s, forcing the government into exile in neighboring India.
According to human rights advocates, Tibetans were angered by Chinese authorities’ distribution of a booklet that criticized the Tibetan language and attacked the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama. The Chinese have called the self-immolations “acts of stupidity.”
Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama called on Beijing to investigate the causes of the self-immolations.
He stated during a visit to Japan that the protest suicides reflected the desperation and frustration of Tibetans who are suffering under Chinese rule and from the lack of religious freedom.
“I always ask the Chinese government: Please, now, thoroughly investigate. What is the cause of these sort of sad things?” the spiritual leader told a group of Japanese politicians Nov. 13, according to reports from Japan.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, denounced the comments.
“The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long engaged in anti-China separatist activities in the guise of religion,” he said.
“The Japanese government has been conniving with the separatist activities of the Dalai Lama and Japanese right-wing forces, which goes against the principle and spirit of China-Japan strategic relations of mutual benefit.”
Army warns about sex scams
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command this week warned against being taken in by online romance scams by “thugs claiming to be U.S. servicemen.”
Army special agents investigating the crimes said Internet users worldwide are being duped by the ruse. A statement by the CID said the offers are “promising true love, but only end up breaking hearts and bank accounts.”
CID agents have received hundreds of reports from victims around the world who were taken in by criminals pretending to be U.S. soldiers deployed in Afghanistan or other locations.
“The victims are most often unsuspecting women, 30 to 55 years old, who think they are romantically involved on the Internet with an American soldier, when in fact they are being cyber-robbed by perpetrators thousands of miles away,” the command said in a statement.
“We cannot stress enough that people need to stop sending money to persons they meet on the Internet and claim to be in the U.S. military,” said Army spokesman Chris Grey.
“It is heartbreaking to hear these stories over and over again of people who have sent thousands of dollars to someone they have never met and sometimes have never even spoken to on the phone.”
Most of the swindles involve offers of romance perpetrated through social media and dating websites. They mainly target women.
The criminals who carry out the scams use the names and ranks of servicemen in combat areas, match it with photos of soldiers obtained from the Internet and then build false identities used to lure unsuspecting women.
“We have even seen instances where the soldier was killed in action, and the crooks have used that hero’s identity to perpetrate their twisted scam,” said CID Special Agent Matthew Ivanjack.
Romantic requests have involved “carefully worded” appeals from victims to help buy laptop computers, international telephones or other items that will be used by the fake deployed troops. The victims are asked to send money, sometimes thousands of dollars, to third-party addresses.
Other cybercrimes involving the impersonation of U.S. soldiers have even involved the bogus sale of a vehicle through wire transfers of funds.
“These perpetrators — often from other countries, most notably from West African countries — are good at what they do and quite familiar with American culture, but the claims about the Army and its regulations are ridiculous,” said Mr. Grey, the CID spokesman.
In one case, a New York woman took out a second mortgage on her home to send money in one scam that cost her $60,000.
Another woman in Britain was taken for more than $75,000 by con artists.