Update (12/1): North Korea has announced it is indeed intending to launch a test rocket within days
By Barbara Starr
The Pentagon and the intelligence community are scouring classified and commercial imagery for any evidence of a North Korean missile launch, but they have not firmly concluded that one will occur, according to a senior U.S. military official.
While not discounting the possibility of a launch, the U.S. military is leaving open the chance there could be other motives with new activity observed around a North Korean launch pad.
"They could be moving things around just to make a point," the official said. "But on the other hand it's the North Koreans, so who knows."
The official said a key question in military and intelligence circles is whether the North Koreans would have been able to solve the engineering problems they experienced with the failed launch of a similar missile in April. Or if they would go ahead and undertake a technically risky launch again so soon, risking U.N. condemnation.
In the most recent ongoing activity on the launch pad, commercial imagery from Digital Globe shows trailers - possibly carrying the first two stages of a Taopodong-2 missile - parked near an missile assembly building, according to an analysis by the blog 38 North, which is published by Johns Hopkins university. It could be an indication that the rocket stages are being worked on, the 38 North analysis explains.
But the official said the U.S. military still doesn't see the level of activity that would definitely indicate a launch is planned let alone imminent.
"We need to see them get to that certain point," he said. One example, if the North Koreans start the actual fueling process, then essentially a countdown to launch begins.
The 38 North analysis notes what are believed to be empty fuel canisters near the launch pad. But it also notes that before previous launches, Pyongyang announced "dates and hours for sea or air closure areas for the rocket's first and second stage impact areas," as well as filing documents for satellite frequency.
"Since that has not happened yet, the window would appear to be closing for an early launch," the website says.