America may be sabotaging North Korea's missiles

Is the U.S. sabotaging North Korea's missiles?
(Image credit: CNN/YouTube)

After a North Korean missile exploded seconds after launch on Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence declined to confirm or deny if the U.S. had sabotaged the missile test. "I really can't comment on the electronic and technical capabilities of our military," he told CNN on Wednesday aboard the USS Ronald Reagan in Japan. But the U.S. has been ramping up its efforts to disrupt North Korea's missile program through cyber and electronic means since 2014, when former President Barack Obama decided other anti-missile systems weren't a sufficient defense, The New York Times reported last month.

The goal of the covert program is to sabotage missiles so they explode seconds after launch, and North Korean military rockets have been regularly exploding, veering off course, and plunging into the sea since soon after Obama ordered the disruption efforts. Medium-range Musudan missiles, for example, have a failure rate of 88 percent, The New York Times says. There are several ways the U.S. might sabotage Pyongyang's missile program, experts say. "You could either go after the supply chain, embedding flaws in parts and systems that they are using," Peter Singer, a fellow at New America, told CNN. Other possible tactics include hacking the electronics to mess with the launch sequence or trigger the self-destruct mechanism. CNN's Brian Todd lays out the case for U.S. sabotage:

It is also possible that North Korea is just suffering technical difficulties, human error, sabotage by disgruntled North Koreans, or flawed designs. But last fall, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "was widely reported to have ordered an investigation into whether the United States was sabotaging North Korea's launches," the Times reported in early March, "and over the past week he has executed senior security officials."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.