January 20, 2023
SEOUL – Commercial satellite imagery can clearly capture North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s office, residence and other key facilities of Pyongyang, US state-owned broadcaster Voice of America reported Wednesday, as it released Google Earth images of those locations.
Last month, North Korea disclosed photos of downtown Seoul including the area around President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office and the Incheon port, claiming they were taken by a prototype of its reconnaissance satellite under development, though those photos had lower resolution than Google Earth photos.
One does not have to launch reconnaissance satellites to track the North Korean leader’s whereabouts, as Google Earth photos are enough to get clear views of the key places he frequents, VOA said.
“This means that in case of an armed conflict with North Korea, the US and South Korea, whose reconnaissance assets are much (more) advanced than Pyongyang’s, can immediately target the movements of the North Korean leadership which they have precisely confirmed and analyzed so far,” the US radio broadcaster said.
Showing Google Earth images of the government complex comprising three connected buildings known as the North’s Worker’s Party of Korea complex No. 1, where Kim’s office is located, VOA explained how one has to pass through at least three guard posts on a route of about 600 meters to enter the complex.
“As dozens of satellite photos of the area taken from 2000 until last year have been released, one can closely observe how the area has changed,” VOA said.
The Google Earth photos are high-resolution enough to show streetlamps within the government site.
According to the Google Earth images, the center of what is now the main building of the No. 1 complex of the North’s Workers’ Party of Korea was unoccupied without a roof until 2017, but became roofed in 2018.
Previously, there were only two passages connecting the main building and the building to the west, but now, one can see an additional structure with a roof next to one of the passages.
Near the building to the south is an entrance to a tunnel, above which is a garden.
About 100 meters south across the garden is Kim Jong-un’s residence, known as official residence No. 15.
“Currently in Pyongyang, large houses with entrances to tunnels next to them can be easily spotted. They are presumed to be official residences of Kim or other high-ranking officials,” VOA said.
Nick Hansen, an imagery technology expert affiliated with the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, said North Korea launched two satellites into orbit, “but once they achieved orbit, they failed.”
The purported “reconnaissance satellite” that Pyongyang is developing is unlikely to be of higher performance compared to US commercial satellites, according to Hansen.