Seoul Was Clueless to North Korea’s Nuclear Test

John Kim, Jan. 7, 2016, 7:45 a.m.


The Defense Ministry was caught completely off guard by North Korea's nuclear test on Wednesday, despite boasting earlier that it would be able to detect an impending North Korean nuclear test at least a month ahead. 



A military spokesman admitted that minds were elsewhere. "In the past, we put together a separate team to monitor the situation whenever North Korea showed suspicious signs of preparing for a nuclear test," he said. "But we were unable to spot any signs this time and did not put together a special team and obviously failed to make proper preparations."

The ministry found out about the nuclear test 12 minutes after it took place -- by being told about it by the weather bureau, the Korea Meteorological Administration. "North Korea conducted the nuclear test at its Punggye-ri facility in North Hamgyong Province at 10:30 a.m. and the Joint Chiefs of Staff was notified by the KMA at 10:42 a.m.," a ministry spokesman said.

Critics accuse the ministry of sleeping on its watch, not a rare occurrence in recent debacles. The Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defense Command issued a report on Sunday warning of a looming nuclear test based on media reports and U.S. intelligence information, but high-ranking officials here apparently brushed it off.



The website 38 North at Johns Hopkins University reported months ago that North Korea had dug a new test tunnel. Ex-ministry official Cho Bo-geun told lawmakers in September of last year that the South would be able to detect a North Korean nuclear test at least a month ahead and a long-range missile launch a week before it happened. 

But Pyongyang easily evaded prying eyes. "A nuclear test is preceded by a set routine and North Korea this time ensured that all of these signs were hidden," a ministry spokesman said. But the National Intelligence Service and Defense Ministry told lawmakers on Wednesday that foreign intelligence agencies also failed to read the signs.

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