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AP Photo/Wong Maye-E

An Obama-era cyber intrusion program could have been responsible for the failure of North Korea's missile launch on Sunday, according to cyber, nuclear and North Korea experts.

The abortive outcome of the launch, disintegrating within seconds, bore uncanny resemblance to the description of an Obama-era cyber intrusion strategy described in a March 4 article in the New York Times.

The likeliest scenario: The missile was not sabotaged with the flick of a switch, experts say. If this was a cyber intrusion, the U.S., over a number of months or years, figured out the components that North Korea needed for its missile program, and where it would acquire them, and planted malware along the supply chain, according to a former cyber expert with the National Security Agency who did not want to be identified. When that malware detected "certain circumstances," such as flight or ignition, it would be coded to sabotage the operation, the former official said.

  • No one we contacted could state flatly that North Korea was the victim of cyber-sabotage.
  • In fact Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said he is "deeply skeptical" that the US was responsible. "The failures we've seen are better explained by the pains of the R&D process," he said. "There is a reason that 'rocket science' is a metaphor for something that is hard to do."
  • But other experts leaned toward US sabotage. Michael Sulmeyer, director of the Cyber Security Project at the Harvard Kennedy School: "The idea of a US military officer clicking 'hack' in the seconds before the North launched its missile–-that's just not the way this works. Rather, a scenario more consistent with recent newspaper reporting is that a series of activities over an extended period of time, including some computer and electronic manipulation, could have resulted in the failed launch."

What comes next: The former NSA official said that, if the U.S. has implanted malware in numerous missile components, it will be hard for North Korea to find all of them. Hence, its missile advancement will be erratic. But Dr. Victor Cha, an expert on North Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, "It is also a fact that this failure will not deter the [North Koreans] from trying again."

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

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Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

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Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”

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