CNN: North Korean spies caught stealing missile plans in Ukraine (Update: Video added)

CNN has video from 2011 showing two North Korean spies photographing secret missile plans in a small garage in Ukraine. In fact, the missile plans were fake and both men were arrested and are now in prison:

The two suspects can be seen moments before Ukrainian security service agents burst in and arrest them.

The Ukrainian missile experts they had been courting in the weeks before had informed on them to Ukrainian counter-intelligence agents.
As a result, authorities had detailed knowledge of the information they sought — “ballistic missiles, missile systems, missile construction, spacecraft engines, solar batteries, fast-emptying fuel tanks, mobile launch containers, powder accumulators and military government standards,” according to the court papers from their 2012 trial.

Why is Ukraine revealing this 2011 sting video to CNN now? The article says it’s an attempt to push back on reports that recent leaps in North Korean missile technology may have come from Ukraine. That’s a reference to a NY Times story published last week. Citing classified intelligence assessments and a new analysis by Michael Elleman from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the Times reported North Korea’s missile advances were likely the result of “black-market purchases of powerful rocket engines probably from a Ukrainian factory.” The same NY Times report said Elleman believed the 2011 attempt by North Korean spies to steal Ukrainian missile secrets bolstered his claims:

Bolstering his conclusion, he added, was a finding by United Nations investigators that North Korea tried six years ago to steal missile secrets from the Ukrainian complex. Two North Koreans were caught, and a U.N. report said the information they tried to steal was focused on advanced “missile systems, liquid-propellant engines, spacecraft and missile fuel supply systems.”

So, if I’m following this correctly, Elleman cites the arrest of these two spies as evidence North Korea was after Ukrainian missile tech. But CNN cites a Ukrainian security service officer who simply points out that their plan failed. He also claims no subsequent attempt succeeded:

An officer with Ukraine’s security service, who worked on the 2011 case of the two North Koreans and who we granted anonymity because of his operational role, insisted it was “impossible” North Korea had obtained any missile technology, as he was sure their espionage attempts had all been intercepted.

He said that in 2011 two other North Koreans — who traveled to Ukraine from the country’s Moscow Embassy — were deported after they were caught trying to obtain “missile munitions, homing missile devices in particular for air-to-air class missiles.” A third North Korean, tasked with transporting the actual devices out of Ukraine, was also deported.

The same source says five more North Koreans were deported in 2015 and, besides the two men currently in prison, there are no North Koreans in the country.

Judge for yourself who to believe here. The video certainly shows the North Koreans were after this technology but also shows they failed to get it. And yet, the recent successful missile tests seem to indicate that, one way or another, North Korea did get something. They went from being a year or more away from having an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. mainland to having one. The details of how they got from point A to point B or who helped them get there are still fuzzy at this point.

Update: Here’s the sting that nabbed the two North Korean spies:

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