A drone that crashed in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on March 24 hovered above Cheong Wa Dae and took close-range photos of the facility, it was revealed on Wednesday.
Based on several photos the Chosun Ilbo obtained on Wednesday, the drone started taking photos near Paju along a pre-set route. It flew right above Cheong Wa Dae and Gyeongbok Palace at an altitude of 1.3 km.
Analysis of digital information contained in these photos shows that the drone photographed the Cheong Wa Dae compound and its vicinity while flying from northwest over the area.
"The drone is believed to have flown at a speed of about 100 km/h and hovered over Cheong Wa Dae for some 20 seconds," photography experts speculated.
"The drone flew at a constant altitude. The camera's zoom function wasn't used. But the photos don't show if it was possible to remote-control the function," they added.
Until recently, military authorities unofficially argued that the drone did not come close to Cheong Wa Dae. But the possibility of the North having worked out reconnaissance and operational plans to reconnoiter Cheong Wa Dae with the drone can no longer be ruled out.
After a full investigation, military and intelligence authorities concluded that the aircraft was a rudimentary-level reconnaissance drone manufactured in the North. "It carried a Japanese-made camera but it seems impossible for the drone to transmit images in real time."
However, some experts claimed the North might have already received the photos through an image-transmission device inside the drone's tail.
The drone could have been turned into an unmanned "suicide" attack aircraft if some modifications were made, military authorities warn. They also found a two-digit number believed to be a serial number on its fuselage, meaning that scores of such drones may have been manufactured.
One of the investigators said, "We found indications that the drone's parachute had been re-folded eight times. It seems highly likely that it had been test-flown, or carried out operations several times."
The Defense Ministry said that the fuselage was made of polycarbonate at least three to four years ago with the aim of avoiding radar detection. "In all probability, North Korea must have sent drones to reconnoiter major military and security installations in South Korea for the last few years," a government official said.
Meanwhile, quoting North Korea experts, U.S. media downplayed the drone as merely a "model airplane fitted with a camera" or more like an "antique."