A news helicopter flying over Los Angeles on Monday night caught more than the usual skyline shots and traffic backlogs. While the chopper’s camera rolled, a plume of smoke and possibly flame rose up from the horizon and arched out over the Pacific Ocean, from a position the news crew estimated to be approximately 35 miles from America’s largest city on the West coast. While there has been no confirmation from the military, speculation quickly centered on an alarming possibility — that a ballistic missile had been fired within sight of the U.S. mainland … one that the military reports no knowledge of.
Since the possible missile launch was first reported late on Monday, there has been a chorus of confused responses from various U.S. government agencies. NASA reports no launches from Vandenberg Air Force base since last week, with no further planned until December. The Federal Flight Administration claims that nothing was detected on local radar and that no commercial rocket launches were authorized. The joint U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Command, and the United States Northern Command, will say only that they are investigating the reported incident and do not believe there to be a threat to American national security. The Navy said tersely that the launch was not related to their forces.
The Pentagon has no explanation, but at least one official has said anonymously that the consensus of the government is that the apparent missile launch was in fact the contrail of a commercial aircraft distorted by an atmospheric optical illusion. But even this is apparently a conclusion drawn from negative evidence — since the military can’t determine what the object actually was, they are concluding that it was nothing at all, just an illusion. That might well be true, but won’t do much to undo the confusion of the past day.
As American television played the video of the alleged missile climbing and news websites speculated as to what could have caused it, it was disturbing how little evidence high-ranked officials had to offer. It is disturbing enough to ponder the fact that an unknown force would be able to fire a missile in Los Angeles’ backyard. Even more disturbing is that the entire United States government and its mighty armed forces don’t seem to have the slightest idea what happened, or even if anything happened at all. Whether the video shows an optically distorted contrail or a missile’s plume, surely, there is a simple answer. A missile was launched or not. Why did it take a full day before a Pentagon official would anonymously speculate that it was nothing?
Even if this incident is revealed to have been non-threatening, the confusion concerning whether or not an incident had even occurred is troubling because of just how dangerous this situation can be. Both Russia and China field ballistic missile submarines capable of launching nuclear-tipped missiles from beneath the waves. If such a missile attack were to be undertaken that close to the shores of the United States, the missile could reach its target within five minutes, far faster than the American military could confirm the attack, calculate its target and probable national origin, and notify the President so that a counter-attack could be initiated.
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