Activity spotted at N. Korea nuclear test site: Volleyball


Analysts who examine satellite images of North Korea reported on Wednesday that they had spotted some unexpected activity at the country’s nuclear test site: active volleyball games in three separate areas. 

 The surprising images were taken on Sunday as tensions between the United States and North Korea seemed to spike. The Korean Peninsula pulsed with news that the North was preparing for its sixth atomic detonation and that U.S. warships had been ordered into the Sea of Japan as a deterrent, even though the ships turned out to have sailed in the opposite direction. 

 The volleyball games, played in the middle of that international crisis, were probably intended to send a message, analysts said, as the North Koreans are aware that the nuclear test site is under intense scrutiny. But what meaning the North wanted the games to convey is unclear. 

 “It suggests that the facility might be going into a standby mode,” Joseph Bermudez told reporters on a conference call organized by 38 North, a research institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. “It also suggests that these volleyball games are being conducted with the North Koreans knowing that we’ll be looking and reporting on it.” 

 Bermudez, a veteran analyst, emphasized the ambiguity of North Korean intentions. “They’re either sending us a message that they’ve put the facility on standby, or they’re trying to deceive us,” he said. “We really don’t know.” 

 At a military parade on Saturday, Pyongyang displayed many missiles, and on Sunday, it fired one that exploded seconds after liftoff, raising suspicions that an American program to sabotage the test flights had struck once again. 

 But at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, in the mountainous wilds of the North, teams of players that Sunday were engaged in a series of volleyball games, according to the image analysts. The game locations, Bermudez said, were the main administrative area, the guard barracks and the support area of the command center. 

 “What we’ve seen,” he told reporters, “is somewhat unusual.” 

 The resolution, or sharpness, of the satellite images was such that the players looked quite small, with no discernible features. 

 Bermudez spoke with reporters on Tuesday, and the group on Wednesday put out a report on the test-site developments. The authors, along with Bermudez, were Jack Liu and Frank Pabian, a scientist at the Los Alamos weapons lab in New Mexico, the birthplace of the atomic bomb. 

 The report said the volleyball teams appeared to be “the normal six players on each side.” An additional image in the report showed what the analysts identified as a “possible volleyball net” near the command area. But no players were visible. 

 Volleyball is a popular sport in North Korea, and satellite imagery often identifies games in progress. Previous images of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site have revealed personnel playing volleyball, but never before in three concurrent games. 

 Bermudez is an adviser to AllSource Analysis, a Colorado company that analyzes satellite images and other information for government and commercial clients. 

 The 38 North report said that the rugged test site, despite the games, appeared able to conduct a sixth nuclear test at any time upon receiving the order.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

State attorneys general ask FCC to delay net neutrality vote
State attorneys general ask FCC to delay net neutrality vote

The attorneys general of nearly 20 states asked the Federal Communications Commission to delay a vote on changing the country’s net neutrality rules as they investigate reports that impersonators posted hundreds of thousands of fake comments on the commission’s notice of the proposed change. “If the well of public comment has been...
Local GOP leaders: Democrats shouldn’t read much into Roy Moore’s loss
Local GOP leaders: Democrats shouldn’t read much into Roy Moore’s loss

Democrats locally and nationally should not be quick to discern a political sea change in Tuesday night’s Alabama U.S. Senate election, current and former leaders of Palm Beach County’s Republican Party said Wednesday. In the vote to replace U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. Attorney General, in what traditionally is a deep-red southern...
#ThankYouAlabama: Doug Jones wins Senate seat over Roy Moore, Twitter celebrates
#ThankYouAlabama: Doug Jones wins Senate seat over Roy Moore, Twitter celebrates

News that Alabama voters chose Tuesday to send Democrat Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate over embattled Republican Roy Moore was greeted with relief and joy on social media. Moore was considered a favorite to take the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions early in the race, but his grip on the position slipped amid a flurry of sexual misconduct...
Omarosa to leave White House post
Omarosa to leave White House post

Omarosa Manigault Newman, the “Apprentice” star turned White House aide, will leave from her position in President Donald Trump’s administration next month, officials confirmed Wednesday. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Manigault Newman’s resignation will be effective Jan. 20, the one-year anniversary...
Roy Moore thought his stance on abortion would lead him to victory. It didn’t.
Roy Moore thought his stance on abortion would lead him to victory. It didn’t.

Roy Moore's campaign had one weapon that seemed to offer his supporters a counterweight to the allegations that he had pursued teenaged girls when he was in his 30s: abortion.  In the run-up to Tuesday's special election for U.S. Senate, the Alabama Republican denied any improper sexual behavior, but also went on the offensive against Democrat...
More Stories