Ex-CIA Chief Surprised Pyongyang Admitted Rocket Failure

Posted April 18th, 2012 at 3:45 am (UTC-5)
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Former CIA Director Michael Hayden says North Korea may have had “no choice” but to acknowledge that its attempt at launching a satellite into orbit last Friday was a failure.

Hayden says he is among the many analysts who were surprised when North Korea's state media reported the failure, just hours after the rocket fell harmlessly into the Yellow Sea.

North Korea's state media stubbornly insisted that past attempts at satellite launches in 1998 and 2009 were successful, even though they were widely regarded as having failed.

In an interview Tuesday with VOA's Korean service, Hayden says he does not think the move suggests North Korea's new leader Kim Jong Un is more open to change than his predecessors.

But he says advances in technology – even in a tightly controlled environment such as North Korea – mean that “total isolation is no longer possible” for Pyongyang.

“The ability of North Korea to seal off the population from information from the outside world has been so much reduced, that Kim Jong Un – or whoever else is making these decisions – decided that it would be worse to claim that this was a success than to have the truth leak in to the North Korean population.”

Hayden, who now works with the Chertoff Group security consulting firm, says he fears North Korea's new leadership may consider a third nuclear test to make up for the embarrassing rocket failure.

“We've seen this pattern in the past – where they have a missile launch, and the rest of the world has responded. And rather than compromise and negotiate, the North has taken another provocative action. And in two instances, the provocative action has been an attempt at a nuclear test. So I fear that this is the course of action they may be on.”

North Korea's Foreign Ministry seemed to legitimize those fears on Tuesday, when it threatened unspecified retaliation now that an agreement with the U.S. to freeze nuclear activities in exchange for food aid has been suspended.

In February, North Korea agreed to stop nuclear and long-range missile tests and allow U.N. nuclear inspectors into the country in exchange for the badly needed emergency food aid.

Hayden says it is a “bit mysterious” why North Korea chose to break that promise by conducting what is widely considered as a long-range missile test so soon after making concessions.

He says it is possible that Kim Jong Un, who took power in December following his father's death, needed to conduct the missile test to solidify his power and prove himself to the country's powerful military.

Another theory, Hayden says, is that Kim Jong Un was simply not powerful enough to stop either the missile test or the food arrangement with the U.S., both of which may have been set in motion by his father, Kim Jong Il.

“Look, we don't know. But we can conclude that what the North has done is very troubling, and does not show any dramatic change in policy from what we've been facing for decades.”

When asked what the U.S. could do to respond to Pyongyang's provocations, Hayden says he does not expect another goodwill gesture by Washington.

Hayden says “now is not the time to make concessions,” because any such move would be viewed as rewarding bad behavior by the North Korean leadership.