Spooks With Red Faces

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WASHINGTON: They were embarrassed enough when they failed to anticipate India's first atomic bomb test. Now it seems America's top brass and intelligence agents were caught out by North Korea's three-stage missile test, too. After a classified briefing on Capitol Hill, Senator Chuck Robb broke the news Wednesday that there were red faces in both the CIA and the Pentagon back in August: "The fact that they had a third-stage capability was not predicted by the intelligence community, and they were doing a reassessment," said the Virginia Democrat.

Pyongyang, of course, says it was actually launching a satellite, which it claims orbits the Earth even now, broadcasting praises to President Kim Jong Il. The Pentagon says that's a red herring. No such satellite has been detected. And while the ostensible aim might have been to launch one, U.S. intelligence fears the real purpose was to develop intercontinental-range missiles. The spooks' next mission? To determine how small a payload North Korea would need to go the all-important 3,400 miles -- far enough to reach the United States. Hopefully, they'll be ahead of the game on that one.