Hand of U.S. Leaves North Korea’s Missile Program Shaken
WASHINGTON — When a North Korean missile test went awry Sunday, blowing up seconds after liftoff, there were immediate suspicions that a U.S. program to sabotage the test flights had struck again. The odds seem highly likely: Eighty-eight percent of the launches of the North’s most threatening missiles have self-destructed since the covert American program was accelerated three years ago.
But even inside the U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, where the operation is centered, it is nearly impossible to tell if any individual launch is the victim of a new, innovative approach to foil North Korean missiles with cyber and electronic strikes.
然而，即便是处在行动核心的美国网络战司令部(U.S. Cyber Command)和国家安全局(National Security Agency)，也几乎无法判断发射究竟是否是以网络和电子袭击挫败朝鲜导弹发射的创新手段所致。
Bad welding, bad parts, bad engineering and bad luck can all play a role in such failures — as it did in the United States’ own missile program, particularly in its early days. And it would require a near impossible degree of forensic investigation to figure out an exact cause, given that the failed North Korean missiles tend to explode, disintegrate in midair and plunge in fragments into faraway seas.
But this much is clear, experts say: The existence of the U.S. program, and whatever it has contributed to North Korea’s remarkable string of troubles, appears to have shaken Pyongyang and led to an internal spyhunt as well as innovative ways to defeat a wide array of enemy cyberstrikes.
By all accounts, the program that President Barack Obama stepped up in 2014 has been adopted with enthusiasm by the Trump administration. President Donald Trump’s national security aides are eagerly hoping that the Chinese, among others, will get North Korea to freeze or reverse its program. Yet they have no compunctions about using this new class of weapon against missile tests that the United Nations has already prohibited.
“When you look at what is emanating out of North Korea,” Michael Chertoff, a former secretary of homeland security who now runs a cyberconsulting group in Washington, said Tuesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “I have sympathy for the argument that anything we can do to stop an unpredictable person from using nuclear weapons is worth trying.”
“看到朝鲜正在发射的东西，”曾担任国土安全部部长、现在华盛顿管理一家网络咨询机构的迈克尔·切尔托夫(Michael Chertoff)周二在卡内基国际和平研究院(Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)说道。“我会支持这样一种观点，即阻止不可预料的人使用核武器的任何努力都是值得一试的。”
But the question for the United States’ intelligence agencies is whether this new tool is as effective as many have hoped. While billions of dollars have been poured into new offensive cyberweapons, touting a success in thwarting North Korea — whether it is real or imagined — can be turned into an argument for more.
It is a particularly difficult question in light of Sunday’s botched test, because it is still unclear exactly what missile was launched. By nature, missiles teeter on the brink of failure, and new designs are often accident prone. At their best, missiles are dense welters of pipes, engines, valves, pumps, volatile fuels, relays, explosive bolts, wires, sensors and circuit boards that suddenly emit blistering flames and roar skyward with such shattering violence that they often quickly hit the breaking point. Things can easily go wrong, and frequently do.
But even by those measures, the North Koreans are having a rough time, and it has gotten a lot rougher since the United States accelerated its sabotage program.
In the annals of rocketry, experts say, roughly 5 to 10 percent of developmental test flights go awry. That holds even for such high practitioners of the art as the billionaires Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, and Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, who are now racing to redefine the future of spaceflight. (By contrast, U.S. commercial airline flights have a success rate of more than 99.9999 percent. And when crashes do occur, it can take investigators weeks, months or even years to identify the cause.)
大约有5%~10%会失败。即便是对亚马逊(Amazon)创始人、亿万富翁杰夫·贝佐斯(Jeff Bezos)和特斯拉(Tesla)创始人埃隆·马斯克(Elon Musk)达到如此高度的实践者来说，也是如此——这两人正在争相定义宇宙飞行的未来（相比之下，美国商业航班的成功率超过了99.9999%。而当真的发生飞机坠毁事件时，调查人员需要花费数周、数月，乃至数年才能确认出现事故的原因）。
But the sheer frequency of North Korean missile mishaps suggests that sabotage lies behind at least some of the recent failures.
So does the timing. Typically, countries encounter high failure rates when they start their rocket programs. As the programs mature, and engineers gain experience, spectacular failures decline and success tends to become a habit. In North Korea, the situation has been the exact reverse.
By and large, the North was a reliable maker of missiles in the 1980s, ‘90s and into the 2000s. The government sold its missiles to Pakistan and Iran, among others.
Then came the effort to launch the Musudan, an intermediate-range missile that Pyongyang first displayed in a military parade in late 2010. It was 5 feet wide and 40 feet long — remarkably small compared with the North’s big rockets. But it represented an enormous threat. Carried on a truck, it could be hauled on country roads through forested regions or kept in tunnels, making it easy to hide and, as a target, difficult to find and destroy.
To date, the proven reach of the Musudan makes it the most threatening potential weapon in the North’s emerging arsenal of missiles that might loft nuclear warheads. It is seen as able to hit targets up to 2,200 miles away — far enough to strike the sprawling U.S. base at Guam.
Last year, the North conducted eight flight tests. Only one succeeded, giving the missile an overall failure rate of 88 percent. It was after the last failure that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, was reported to have ordered an investigation into whether the United States was sabotaging his country’s test flights, searching for spies in his system.
Experts say that the best way to slow a program is to send a country scrambling for the causes of failures. “Disrupting their tests,” William J. Perry, defense secretary in the Clinton administration, said at a meeting this year in Washington, would be “a pretty effective way of stopping their ICBM program.”
专家们表示，让一个项目放慢速度的最佳办法就是让一个国家忙着寻找失败的原因。“破坏他们的试验，”曾在克林顿政府担任国防部长的威廉·J·佩里(William J. Perry)在今年于华盛顿举行的一场会议上说，将是“阻止他们的洲际弹道导弹(ICBM)项目非常有效的办法”。
But more recently, the effectiveness of the United States’ sabotage has grown increasingly uncertain. Some new North Korean missile designs, using solid fuels, have had a higher success rate. Moreover, the North Koreans, as sophisticated cyberoperators, have grown better at defense.
John Schilling, a technical expert on North Korea’s missile program, expressed skepticism Tuesday about the efficacy of the foreign cyberattacks against Pyongyang’s missiles.
“We haven’t seen anything yet pointing to cyber specifically,” Schilling said on a conference call organized by 38 North, a think tank specializing in North Korea at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“我们还没看到任何明确指向网络的东西，”席林在约翰·霍普金斯大学高级国际问题研究学院(Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies)参加专门研究朝鲜问题的智库机构38 North组织的一次电话会议上说道。
An easier target of sabotage, Schilling added, would be the parts and supplies that North Korea imports to feed its factories that make the missiles.