According to experts, North Korea appears to have doctored the images released of their latest missile launch, depicting their most advanced missile platform to date, the Hwasong-15. Oddly, it wasn’t the missile itself that appears to have been the subject of the image manipulation, but the backdrop.
North Korea has a long history of manipulating photos prior to release; sometimes the intention is to paint the Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un in the best possible light, but it has also been used on more than one occasion to support exaggerated claims regarding the nation’s military capabilities or equipment. Because very little intelligence finds its way out of the reclusive North Korean regime, these images are often the only source of new information regarding the state of North Korea’s ballistic missile programs, and as such, experts tend to pay close attention when new images surface.
A Palaeolithic archaeologist and space enthusiast, Dr. Marco Langbroek, was the first to point out some issues with North Korea’s images, when he noticed the clarity of the stars in the background of the missile launch images. In order to capture the image of the missile itself with such clarity, the photographer would have had to use a wide open aperture and a fast shutter lens, which likely would not have allowed for a view of any stars in the backdrop at all. The clear depiction of the stars would require a slow shutter, which would have resulted in a blurry shot of the rapid ascent of the missile.
Langbroak’s assertions were supported by Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who also said of the photos, “They looked so crisp, that just didn’t seem right to me.”
That’s not the only thing about these pictures that seems a bit off. The star constellations themselves aren’t right either.
“So, I just discovered that the North Koreans DID tamper with their #Hwasong15 launch photo’s! Two images from clearly same viewpoint, but dramatically different star backgrounds! Orion (Southeast) versus Andromeda (Northwest)!” Dr. Lanbroak pointed out on his Twitter account. It would seem then that the stars were added to the images after the fact, but that does beg the question, why?
North Korea has always placed an emphasis on aesthetics in their propaganda images, and it’s possible that the doctoring of the background of these photographs was done merely for the sake of better presentation. It is also possible, however, that the backdrop to these images was added in order to prevent experts from determining the exact location of the launch.
Western experts often compare satellite imagery and known landmarks to North Korean propaganda photos in an effort to determine the exact location a picture was taken. By adding an artificial background to these images, North Korea may have hoped to prevent experts from triangulating the location of the launch exactly. North Korea’s images do attempt to depict a mobile launch platform, though experts believe that too to be a bit of theatrics. It appears the missile was launched from a permanent fixture, but the use of the truck in publicity photos and the artificial background does raise questions about what North Korea could potentially be trying to conceal, and why, seeing as there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of tampering with the missile itself in the images.
Then again, McDowell believes the decision to photoshop these images may not be an example of North Korea’s counter-intelligence apparatus, but rather just a demonstration of decidedly less professional motivations.
“It looks like they just cut out a star background and put it on to make it look cool,” he said.
Images courtesy of Twitter/KCNA
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