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-Qaeda — 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.
Phantom Report Notes:
This reminds me of another operation led by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Military campaign Able Danger.
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-Qaeda. 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 e-mail, the former CIA officer wrote his FBI friend that the Niger contacts “have determined locally that the [United States government] doesn’t want to help them” chase down the missiles. “I suspect [the Near East division of CIA] squashed this by their normal bureaucratic warfare,” he speculated.
The CIA veteran still hoped that 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.
Read More: Washington Post