This should come as absolutely no surprise. And yet it seems to have done so, for a bunch of nameless “U.S. officials”:
U.S. officials had once thought there was little chance that terrorists could get their hands on many of the portable surface-to-air missiles that can bring down a commercial jet liner.
But now that calculation is out the window, with officials at a recent secret White House meeting reporting that thousands of them have gone missing in Libya.
“Matching up a terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile, that’s our worst nightmare,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-California, a member of the Senate’s Commerce, Energy and Transportation Committee.
The nightmare has been made real with the discovery in Libya that an estimated 20,000 portable, heat-seeking missiles have gone missing from unguarded Army weapons warehouses.
The missiles, four to six-feet long and Russian-made, can weigh just 55 pounds with launcher. They lock on to the heat generated by the engines of aircraft, can be fired from a vehicle or from a combatant’s shoulder, and are accurate and deadly at a range of more than two miles.
Earth to U.S. officials: when you’ve got a revolt in a country like Libya with some fairly high-tech munitions, and the autocratic government there falls, a lot of stuff becomes ripe for the picking. And a lot of it will be just the kind of stuff that terrorists love.
Not that there’s anything the U.S. really could have done about it. Our presence in Libya helped topple Gaddafi and has helped those still-mysterious rebels, but our footprint in that country has been very light.
But now that the horse is out of the barn, we’re trying:
…[A] State Department expert “is on the ground in Libya working with the [Transitional National Council],” the rebels’ interim government, to develop a “control and destruction program” for the missiles. Vietor also said the administration has sent five specialists to help the TNC “secure, recover and destroy” weapons, including surface-to-air missiles.
Good luck. Here’s a possible, but very costly, remedy:
Now there are calls in Congress to give jets that fly overseas the same protection military aircraft have.
“I think we should ensure that the wide-bodied planes all have this protection,” said Sen. Boxer, who first spoke to ABC News about the surface-to-air security threat in 2006. “And that’s a little more than 500 of these planes.”
According to Boxer, it would cost about a million dollars a plane for a system that has been installed and successfully tested over the last few years, directing a laser beam into the incoming missile.