Is North Korea planning missile launch? Activity sparks concern, officials say

It’s a site so secretive that an underground railroad line delivers parts into a movable building, hiding activity from view.

North Korea describes it as a place where the country launches satellites into space.

But U.S. spy satellites are keeping a sharp eye on North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station at Tongchang-ri. And increased movement of equipment and personnel into the facility is raising renewed concerns in the U.S. military and intelligence community that something more sinister could be in the offing there.

Overhead satellite imagery in recent days has shown the movement of personnel, missile-related equipment and fuel into the facility in the north of the country, according to a U.S. official.

An unnamed Japanese government source said an analysis of satellite imagery indicates North Korea may be preparing for a missile launch, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said Thursday.

North Korea will likely say it’s launching a satellite from the site, but U.S. officials say the rocket involved is the equivalent of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

A similar scenario unfolded in 2012, when North Korea announced it was launching a rocket carrying a satellite from the site.

North Korea said that operation was for peaceful purposes, but Japan, the United States and South Korea decried it as a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test.

Earlier this month, North Korea bragged about what it said was the “spectacular success” of its first hydrogen bomb test.

Experts have cast doubt on North Korea’s claim that it tested a hydrogen bomb. Among other things, the blast detected by seismic monitors was much smaller than would have been expected with a powerful hydrogen bomb, they say. But the move drew swift condemnation and calls for additional sanctions.

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