Libyan missiles a serious problem

May 10, 2012


Whenever the CIA uncovers a new plot overseas, like al-Qaida’s latest scheme to blow up civilian aircraft using advanced, hard-to-detect explosives, people breathe a sigh of relief. But this is a multifront war, and almost by definition, the attack that gets you is the one you didn’t see coming.

For the past few months, I’ve been hearing private warnings about another threat to commercial planes: namely, the spread of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles from Libya after the overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi’s regime. A State Department official said in February that Gaddafi had acquired 20,000 of these weapons, and that only 5,000 of them had been secured through a $40 million U.S. program to buy up loose missiles.

“How many are still missing?” asked Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, in his Feb. 2 speech. “The frank answer is we don’t know and probably never will.”

Here’s the scary part: Two former CIA counterterrorism officers told me last week that technicians recently refurbished 800 of these man-portable air-defense systems (known as MANPADS) — some for an African jihadist group called “Boko Haram” that is often seen as an ally of al-Qaida — for possible use against commercial jets flying into Niger, Chad and perhaps Nigeria.

The former CIA officers have been trying for eight months to alert U.S. intelligence, without success. Here’s a summary of the messages I’ve seen.

On Sept. 9, 2011, as Gaddafi’s regime was collapsing, one of the former CIA officers warned an FBI contact that Libyan missiles were moving south into the Agadez region of Niger inhabited by Tuareg tribesmen, who are believed to have links with al-Qaida. He explained to the FBI contact that an Arab source “said there are SA-7s and SA-24s (two Russian-made weapons) already on the ground in Agadez from Libya in the hands of Tuareg AQ affiliated groups.” He heard nothing back.

In a Sept. 12 email, the former CIA officer wrote his FBI friend that the Niger contacts “have determined locally that the USG doesn’t want to help them” chase down the missiles. “I suspect NE (Near East division of CIA) squashed this by their normal bureaucratic warfare,” he speculated.

The CIA veteran still hoped U.S. intelligence would get involved, so he provided the name and telephone number of a relative of a former Libyan intelligence officer who allegedly had helped move the missiles out of the country. On Sept. 15, he also sent the FBI contact phone numbers for the Arab source in Niger who was closely monitoring the missile movements.

On Sept. 28, the frustrated ex-CIA officer wrote a U.S. military contact: “The missiles are in the hands of al-Qaida and being distributed. I would really like to know who in the agency was the roadblock and why.”

Still, the former CIA officer heard nothing back. In December, he wrote another FBI contact that a “speed bump” at the agency apparently was blocking communication.

Finally, in late April, the two former CIA officers received information so urgent they felt they had to get it out, somehow. They sent to a law enforcement contact a picture of a rebel fighter aiming one of the Libyan missiles, and this explanation: “The missiles and munitions that have been streaming out of Libya since the fall of 2011 have made their way to Agadez in Niger and points west. ... Boko Haram has taken possession of some of the refurbished missiles. They have brought Egyptian army ordnance technicians to refurbish and test the SA-7B missiles pictured below. ... The source claims that some 800 missiles are available in the area.”

Last weekend, the CIA veterans finally heard from someone claiming to represent their former employer. The agency official was interested in talking to their Arab source.

When I asked senior U.S. officials for comment, they said they hadn’t heard about the specifics of this case, or the email exchanges. But they agreed the Libyan missiles are a serious problem. “It’s probably true that a small number of Libyan MANPADS have been sold on the black market, and that al-Qaida in the Maghreb is trying to acquire them,” said a senior U.S. official.

The White House commissioned an interagency task force last fall to hunt for the Libyan missiles. “This is going to be a long-term risk mitigation effort, to buy down the risk,” the senior official explained. That sounds sensible enough, but I wonder why nobody was listening when the former CIA officers began ringing the alarm bell.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email is davidignatius@washpost.com.


Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

We Arm the World

The United States once again leads the world in exporting weapons. BY Frida Berrigan

A $7 billion missile-defense system for the United Arab Emirates. An estimated $15 billion potential sale of Lockheed Martin’s brand-new fighter plane to Israel. Billions of dollars in weaponry for Taiwan and Turkey. These and other recent deals helped make the United States the world’s leading arms-exporting nation.

In 2007, U.S. foreign military sales agreements totaled more than $32 billion – nearly triple the amount during President Bush’s first full year in office.

The Pentagon routinely justifies weapons sales as “promoting regional stability,” but many of these arms end up in the world’s war zones. In 2006 and 2007, the five biggest recipients of U.S. weapons were Pakistan ($3.5 billion), Iraq ($2.2 billion), Israel ($2.2 billion), Afghanistan ($1.9 billion) and Colombia ($580 million) – all countries where conflict rages.

In Pakistan, the fighting ranges from communal violence and state repression, to attacks against India, to deadly battles between Pakistani military and al Qaeda forces in the northwest provinces. Israel has used U.S.-supplied weapons in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as in the 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Colombia uses U.S. weaponry to fight the drug war. Of the 27 major conflicts during 2006 and 2007, 19 of them involved U.S-supplied weapons.

While full data is not yet available for 2008, the United States continues to flood warzones with more destabilizing weapons. In 2008, the Pentagon brokered more than $12.5 billion in possible foreign military sales to Iraq, including guns, ammunition, tanks and attack helicopters.

Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi analyst with American Friends Service Committee, notes the chance that this weaponry will promote peace and democracy in Iraq is slim.

“The current Iraqi armed forces are the same forces and militias that have been committing ethnic and sectarian cleansing during the last years and they have a violent record full of human rights violations, torture and assassinations,” says Jarrar.

What’s more, the United States cannot successfully track its weapons. Hundreds of thousands of U.S.-supplied pistols and automatic weapons destined for Iraqi security forces between 2004 and 2005 remain lost, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Pentagon has “no idea where they are,” Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, a national-security think tank, told the Washington Post in 2007. “It likely means that the United States is unintentionally providing weapons to bad actors.”

U.S. law curbs weapons sales to countries engaged in a “gross and consistent” pattern of human rights abuses or to countries using U.S. weapons for aggressive purposes. But these requirements are often set aside in favor of short-term objectives.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 1 month ago

They would describe themselves a pro-peace, something that someone as pro-war as you are likely can't comprehend.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 1 month ago

The missiles mentioned in this article are of Russian origin.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

Bringing republicans back to power brings back this imperialistic foreign policy position.

"Rebuilding America's Defences," openly advocates for total global military domination” (Very dangerous position which threatens OUR freedoms and the nations security) http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Project_for_the_New_American_Century

Our aim is to remind Americans of these lessons and to draw their consequences for today. Here are four consequences:

• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global protection for Wal-Mart,Oil,Coca Cola,Pepsico,diamonds,gold etc etc etc

• we need to strengthen our ties to dictator regimes friendly to American interests and Bogus values;

• we need to promote the cause of the political right wing and economic rape for corp USA abroad;

• we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in forcing others to accept our corrupt principles.

Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and immoral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the extortions of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next no matter how many innocent USA soldiers die.

Endorsed by:

Elliott Abrams / Gary Bauer / William J. Bennett / Jeb Bush /

Dick Cheney / Eliot A. Cohen / Midge Decter / Paula Dobriansky / Steve Forbes /

Aaron Friedberg / Francis Fukuyama / Frank Gaffney / Fred C. Ikle /

Donald Kagan / Zalmay Khalilzad / I. Lewis Libby / Norman Podhoretz /

Dan Quayle / Peter W. Rodman / Stephen P. Rosen / Henry S. Rowen /

Donald Rumsfeld / Vin Weber / George Weigel / Paul Wolfowitz /

Newt Gingrich / George Herbert Walker Bush / Vice Adm John Poindexter

Flap Doodle 6 years, 1 month ago

Wow, this broought out the moldy oldies from a certain prolific poster. (from a source)

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