How Ukraine punked North Korea's nuclear missile scientists

Ukraine has released footage of two North Korean spies exuberantly photographing fake missile designs in 2011, as part of a sting operation that eventually landed the pair in jail, as CNN reports.

Ukraine, once home to thousands of Soviet nuclear ICBMs, continues to produce missiles today as it faces a Russian-backed insurgency in the country’s east. Another Cold War remnant in Ukraine appears to be spycraft, which allowed the country to trick and capture two North Korean spies.

Authorities in Ukraine told CNN that the North Koreans sought “ballistic missiles, missile systems, missile construction, spacecraft engines, solar batteries, fast-emptying fuel tanks, mobile launch containers, powder accumulators, and military government standards,” to bring home to Pyongyang, according to CNN.

North Korean spies photograph fake missile schematics. Screengrab from CNN video.

North Korean spies photograph fake missile schematics. Screengrab from CNN video.

The specific plans the spies thought they were capturing showed schematics for the SS-24 Scalpel intercontinental ballistic missile, a Soviet-designed missile that can carry 10 independently targetable warheads across vast distances. Such a weapon would be a massive improvement over North Korea’s current fledgling ICBM fleet.

But the designs photographed by the North Koreans were fake, and moments after the cameras flashed, authorities broke into the room and detained them. The spies are now serving eight years in prison.

Ukraine may have released the footage to CNN after a report from the International Institute of Strategic Studies alleged that North Koreans had somehow obtained rocket engine designs from Ukraine. Ukraine has strongly pushed back on that accusation, and other missile experts have since disputed it.

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