North Korea’s Nuclear Test: Another Fizzle?

The North Korean nuclear test on May 25, 2009, was “heard” loud and clear around the world despite its apparent limited size. Detection of small, clandestine nuclear tests seems to work.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The Korean Central News Agency reportedly has announced that North Korea “successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of measures to bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense.”  Several news media reported that the Russian Ministry of Defense estimating the test had a yield of approximately 10 to 20 kilotons.

Yet the preliminary seismic data published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows that the test had a seismic magnitude of 4.7, only slightly more powerful than the 4.3 of the 2006 test.

Was it another fizzle? We’ll have to wait for more analysis of the seismic data, but so far the early news media reports about a “Hiroshima-size” nuclear explosion seem to be overblown.

Update: CTBTO’s initial findings.

Latest Missile Plot had Little Chance of Success, but ‘Stinger Stings’ are Valuable Tools

On Wednesday, the FBI thwarted an alleged terrorist plot to shoot down a military cargo plane with a Stinger missile.  According to a criminal complaint obtained by the New York Times, four men were arrested on charges of conspiring to use “a surface-to-air missile system to destroy military aircraft at the New York Air National Guard Base located at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York. “ The plot also allegedly included plans for a simultaneous attack on a Bronx synagogue using an improvised explosive device containing more than 30 pounds of C-4 explosives.

The FBI operation in New York is one of several since the 1980s in which undercover US agents have thwarted  attempts to smuggle, acquire or use man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), including US-made Stinger missiles.  These plots feature conspirators that range from rank amateurs whose ability to obtain MANPADS is dubious at best to sophisticated criminals with a demonstrated ability to obtain and ship weapons to bad actors worldwide.  An example of the former is Hemant Lakhani, a British merchant born in India who was arrested in 2003 for attempting to import 200 Russian Igla missiles into the US and to sell them to individuals claiming to be members of a Somali terrorist organization.  Lakhani was so inept that undercover Russian agents ended up furnishing him with a (deactivated) SA-18 missile after he repeatedly tried and failed to obtain a missile himself.  The agents then had to reroute the missile after Lakhani arranged to have it delivered to the wrong address.
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