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Nuclear Researchers Spot North Korean Volleyball Games


As North Korea keeps the U.S. guessing about its next moves, American analysts are relying on high-resolution satellite imagery to see what Pyongyang is up to. And for the past eight weeks, they have observed a lot of stepped-up activity at Punggye-ri. This is the same place where five nuclear tests have been staged. And Joseph Bermudez of the website says these big loads of dirt have been moved there and that it's a possible sign of tunneling.

JOSEPH BERMUDEZ: This leads us to the conclusion that they have prepared the facility for a new nuclear test. Everything is in place.


Bermudez has studied North Korea for 35 years, and he cautions that analyzing satellite imagery is not as simple as just watching for the dump trucks.

BERMUDEZ: North Korea practices what we in the West call camouflage, concealment and deception.

INSKEEP: It could be a head fake for all we know, but Bermudez never expected to see this.

BERMUDEZ: We looked at the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility, and we identified three volleyball games being conducted.

GREENE: Yes, he said volleyball.

BERMUDEZ: The presence of three groups of people playing three separate volleyball games at the nuclear facility is very unusual. We've seen occasionally one game over the past several years. But all of a sudden to have three is quite unusual.

GREENE: Now, he says this could mean that all the preparations for a nuclear test are complete and the personnel are being allowed some downtime. Or it could be the North Koreans were effectively waving hello to the satellite.

BERMUDEZ: This leads us to the conclusion that they're trying to send a message to us. What that message is isn't necessarily clear. It could be, one, that they're trying to tell us they are not going to test. Two is they could be trying to deceive us into believing they're not going to test but they are going to test.

GREENE: Or three, maybe they just like volleyball.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOSS OF AURA'S "DIM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.