In November 2006, FAS analyst Matt Schroeder interviewed Mr. Dave Diaz, formerly the program manager for the DTRA SALW Program and currently the DoD Liaison on the Interagency MANPADS Task Force, about the importance of strong stockpile security practices for preventing the theft, loss and diversion of shoulder-fired missiles, and US efforts to improve stockpile security worldwide.
Below is a transcript of the interview.
At an unusual press briefing on Monday, U.S. military officials provided the first physical evidence of Iranian arms shipments to Iraqi extremist groups. The display, which the New York Times called “extraordinary,” consisted of explosively formed penetrators, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile reportedly found in Iraq and bearing Iranian markings. Notably, the officials also claimed to have proof that the operation was being directed by “the highest levels of the Iranian government,” a claim that was rigorously denied by Tehran.
The briefing raised more questions than it answered. Topping the list are questions about the extent of the Iranian government’s involvement in the arms shipments. Defense Department officials reportedly provided little proof for their claims of high-level involvement by the Iranian government, and the next day General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chief of staff, appeared to contradict them. Commenting on the captured weaponry, Pace conceded that the weapons “[do] not translate to that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this.” Yesterday President Bush sided with General Pace, confirming that “we don’t…know whether the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did.”
The captured weapons themselves are also puzzling. Not only were they reportedly manufactured in Iran, they are also emblazoned with manufacture dates and lot numbers – hardly indicative of a government that wants to maintain “plausible deniability.” Architects of covert aid programs usually go to great lengths to conceal their government’s involvement by purchasing weapons from foreign suppliers and clandestinely shipping them through third countries. The Iranians apparently did neither. Why?
The President’s foreign aid budget request for FY2008 contains an unexpected and laudable surprise: a five-fold increase in funding for the State Department’s Small Arms/Light Weapons Destruction initiaitive. If approved by Congress, the additional funding will bolster US efforts to stem the illicit trade in deadly light weapons.
With the war against Islamist fighters drawing to a close, Somalia’s transitional government and its foreign allies now face several Herculean tasks: bringing to heel the warlords and militias that have terrorized the country for fifteen years, winning over the various clans and sub-clans that dominate Somali politics, rebuilding the nation’s devastated infrastructure, etc, etc, etc.
In the interest of international security, I would add one more: recovering the dozens of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles reportedly distributed to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), and sanctioning the suppliers.
There have been several recent reports of the acquisition and (attempted) use of shoulder-fired missiles by terrorists and insurgents. Below is a quick summary of these reports:
El Salvador: Foiled Assassination Attempt
The most dramatic of these reports is that of a foiled assassination attempt against Salvadoran President Tony Saca. During a 6 October interview with the Salvadoran daily El Diario de Hoy, Saca revealed details of the alleged plot, which involved two SA-7 surface-to-air missiles and a Cuban national with alleged ties to the now defunct Medellin drug cartel in Colombia. The suspect, George Nayes, was arrested on September 13th and was subsequently extradited to the United States, where he has reportedly been charged with “drug trafficking and terrorism.”
Last week President Bush signed the Fiscal Year 2007 Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which includes $40 million for the Department of Homeland Security’s Counter-MANPADS Program – a multi-year initiative launched in 2003 to evaluate the feasibility of installing anti-missile systems on commercial airliners. The appropriation is nearly 10 times higher than the amount requested by the administration, and increases to $270 million the total amount appropriated for the program.
Appropriators supplemented the administration’s request for the program after proponents of anti-missile systems intervened on its behalf. In February, Rep. Steve Israel called the budget request “lip service” and accused the administration of “ma[king] a decision to effectively kill the counter-MANPADS program…” A month later, Senator Barbara Boxer sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff calling the administration’s decision to reduce funding for the program “misguided and dangerous.”
On July 13th, the Nicaraguan National Assembly voted to destroy an additional 651 of its large stockpile of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, bringing it one step closer to fulfilling President Enrique Bolanos’s earlier commitment to destroy Nicaragua’s entire stock of Man-portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS). The Assembly approved the plan despite opposition from the Sandinista National Liberation Front (SNLF), which led a partially successful campaign to derail the US-funded destruction initiative in early 2005.
The missiles – 2000 SA series MANPADS – are the remnants of a massive infusion of Soviet military assistance to the left-leaning Sandinista government, which was the target of a US-supported insurgency in the 1980s. The proxy wars in Central America ended shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the huge stockpiles of Soviet weapons remained – an attractive target for arms traffickers. Diversions of Nicaragua’s missiles date back at least to 1990, when Sandinistan military officers sold 8 missile launchers and 28 missiles to rebels in El Salvador. Three years later, 19 more black market missiles were discovered in the charred remains of a Managuan auto repair shop that doubled as a storage site for a large cache of illicit rockets, mines, explosives and MANPADS. The repair shop caught fire after part of the cache exploded.
Last week, lawmakers demonstrated their commitment to reining in the black market trade in deadly conventional weapons by forwarding two important bills to the full House and Senate. On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Lugar-Obama Act (S. 2566) by voice vote and without amendment. The bill calls on the State Department to “carry out an accelerated global program” to secure or dispose of surplus and poorly secured man-portable air defense systems and other conventional weapons, and authorizes an additional $25 million in funding for the State Department to accomplish this mission. Two days later, the House International Relations Committee followed suit by passing, also by voice vote and without amendment, the “Shoulder-fired Missile Reduction Act of 2006” (HR 5333), which authorizes an additional $35 million for securing and destroying poorly secured weapons and imposes sanctions on governments that knowingly transfer MANPADS to terrorists and their state sponsors. Both bills enjoy broad bipartisan support.
A summary of HR 5333 was posted on the SSP blog on May 11th. The full text of the bill and the Lugar-Obama Act is available on the ASMP’s “Bills and Laws” page.
Yesterday Rep. Edward Royce (R-CA) introduced a far-reaching bill that, if passed, would boost US efforts to curb the threat posed by Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).
The “Shoulder-fired Missile Reduction Act of 2006” (HR 5333), which already has 13 co-sponsors from both sides of the political aisle, contains provisions that would
**Expand US stockpile security and destruction assistance programs by authorizing $15 million for these programs in fiscal year 2007 and $20 million in FY2008 (effectively doubling current funding levels);
**Punish states that knowingly transfer missiles to terrorists by cutting off U.S. arms sales and foreign aid (except humanitarian assistance); and
**Improve Congressional understanding of the MANPADS threat and the US government’s response by requiring a report that describes US and international counter-MANPADS activities, the impact of these activities on the illicit trade in MANPADS, and the availability of these weapons to terrorists and their states sponsors.
The FY07 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations is now available on the State Department’s website. The CBJ contains a detailed breakdown of the President’s budget request for foreign aid programs, including programs related to conventional arms threat reduction.
Of particular importance is the $8.6 million request for the State Department’s SA/LW destruction program. This amount is a slight decrease from last year’s budget of $8.663 million, and it falls far short of Congressional expectations. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) hearing on February 9th, Senator Joseph Biden remarked that “$8 million doesn’t even get a blip on the screen,” a sentiment echoed by Senator Barak Obama, who called it “decimal dust.” State Department Undersecretary Robert Joseph acknowledged that his team could do more on conventional weapons reduction if it had more money, but warned against diverting funds from other valuable nonproliferation programs.