Updated at 3:10 p.m. on November 9, 2010. A missile was apparently fired off the Southern California coast Monday night, caught on video by a local CBS news helicopter. But Pentagon and military officials have no details about what actually happened.
U.S. Northern Command, where the Pentagon has directed all calls, said in a statement this afternoon that the command was unable to provide specific details about the “unexplained contrail,” or vapor trail, reported off the coast of Southern California. The command said it and NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command that provides early warning of any missile attacks on the United States and Canada, were aware of Monday night's sighting.
“But we are working to determine the exact nature of this event,” the statement said. “We can confirm that there is no threat to our nation, and from all indications this was not a launch by a foreign military.”
A Pentagon spokesman told National Journal this morning that officials are coordinating with various agencies to "see what we know about it."
Naval expert Norman Polmar, a long-time consultant to the Navy and Pentagon, said he believes the missile was almost certainly launched by the U.S. military. “From the video it’s clearly a land- or sea-launched ballistic missile, and it couldn’t have come from a French or British submarine, because they are only deployed in the Atlantic and Mediterranean,” he told National Journal. “Chinese submarines have never ventured farther east than Hawaii, nor have they ever successfully test fired a ballistic missile. That only leaves the Russians, but for the life of me I can’t fathom why Moscow would have a submarine sail 5,000 miles to launch a missile off the coast of California.”
The most likely scenario -- barring some kind of video hoax -- is that there was a test of a U.S. antiballistic missile system, whether land-launched from California, or sea-launched from an Aegis cruiser off the coast, Polmar said. But for such a missile launch to escape the notice of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD would constitute a major breakdown in U.S. command-and-control and early warning systems.
“To say the least, this is very peculiar,” said Polmar.
“Magnificent images were captured by the KCBS news helicopter in L.A. around sunset Monday evening,” CBS reported. “The location of the missile was about 35 miles out to sea, west of L.A. and north of Catalina Island.”
Watch the video below.
-- with Sara Sorcher contributing