Documents shed important light on Viktor Bout case

By Matt Schroeder

As the trial against alleged arms dealer Viktor Bout gets underway, we thought the following documents from the case might be of interest:

(1) Handwritten notes that Bout reportedly took during the meeting in Thailand. The notes include short-hand references to various weapons, including “AA” or anti-aircraft (believed to be a reference to Igla missiles), “AK-47,” “UAV” (unmanned aerial vehicle), 10,000,000 “7,62 x 54” (ammunition used in Russian Dragunov sniper rifles and PKM machine guns), RPG-7 and RPG-22 rocket launchers, and “AG-17” – presumably a reference to the AGS-17 30 mm automatic grenade launcher. Some of the notes are more cryptic, including references to 500 “60 mm”, 200 “82 mm” and 40 “120 mm.” Presumably, these are references to mortars since 60mm, 82mm and 120mm are all common calibers for mortar rounds.

(2) A print-out of an email that Bout allegedly sent to one of the DEA’s confidential sources. This email is mentioned prominently in other court documents made public shortly after Bout was arrested. Oddly, the email was reportedly sent from an address linked to an account set up by a “Victor But.” Use of an alias so close to his own name when setting up an email account intended for negotiating arms transfers seems uncharacteristically careless for Bout.

(3) Excerpts from pamphlets on Soviet-era cargo planes that Bout allegedly recommended for delivering weapons to the FARC. According to investigators, the weapons were to be air-dropped from these planes. The same delivery method was used by the orchestrators of a 1999 plot to divert to the FARC 50,000 Jordanian assault rifles intended for the Peruvian military. The traffickers managed to drop 10,000 of the rifles into FARC-controlled areas of Colombia before the government of Jordan learned of the scheme and canceled the deal. In their book, Merchant of Death, Doug Farah and Stephen Braun suggest that Bout was linked to the diversion. They claim that the plane used to deliver the rifles “…belong[ed] to one of Bout’s front companies…”

(4) One of several articles on the FARC that describes their criminal activities.

(5) A map of South America that Bout reportedly used in discussions about the locations of American radar stations.

(6) Technical documents on anti-tank missiles that Bout allegedly offered to sell to the FARC. The documents were reportedly taken from a memory stick provided to the DEA during the sting. It appears that missile on offer was the AT-4 Spigot, a wire-guided Russian missile system that has a maximum range of 2000-2500 meters and can penetrate up to 400-460 mm of armor, depending on the type of missile used.

The documents (and the above assessments) were originally posted on the Strategic Security Blog in 2009. The original post, which contains additional analysis, is available here.

Missile Watch – November 2010


Missile Watch

A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project

Vol. 3, Issue 3

November 2010

Editor: Matt Schroeder


Editor’s Note: Wikileaks and arms trafficking, Missile Watch sponsorship program

Global News: UN Arms Register: Venezuela was the largest importer of MANPADS in 2009

Global News: Extradition of Viktor Bout could reveal much about the illicit arms trade

Afghanistan: No evidence of Iranian MANPADS training, claims NATO official

Egypt: Another Massive Missile Cache Discovered in the Sinai

Somalia: Photos of missile confirms claims in UN report, but questions remain

United States: FAS obtains key counter-MANPADS report

Additional News & Resources

About the Authors

About Missile Watch

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Editor’s Note

The surprise extradition of notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout to the United States tops the list of developments covered in this edition of Missile Watch. The former Russian intelligence officer is widely considered to be one of the most prolific arms traffickers of the last twenty years, and his trial is likely to yield important new insights into the illicit arms trade. Also noteworthy is the release of the Department of Homeland Security’s final report on its counter-MANPADS program. The report confirms that two anti-missile systems evaluated during the program are capable of protecting planes from MANPADS, but the $43 billion price tag may preclude their installation on more than a small number of airliners.


Wikileaks and arms trafficking

The other recent headline-generating event in which MANPADS featured prominently is the release by Wikileaks of hundreds of thousands of classified documents on US military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a comparable number of diplomatic cables from around the world. These documents reportedly include references to alleged trafficking and use of MANPADS by insurgents, but they are of little value to policymakers or researchers. Most of the documents from Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, appear to be preliminary, unsubstantiated tactical level field reports written by individuals whose knowledge of MANPADS and arms trafficking is difficult to discern. For researchers, any information contained in these documents is useful only as a starting point, and the manner in which they were released all but guarantees that government officials capable of clarifying their contents will refuse to discuss them.

At the same time, the reports could be extremely useful to insurgents and arms traffickers. By alerting suspected traffickers to US government monitoring of their activities, the leaked documents could jeopardize ongoing investigations as traffickers break off contact with undercover agents, destroy documentation associated with the illicit activities, or relocate their operations. The net result may not only be impunity for traffickers and their accomplices, but also months or years of wasted effort by investigators, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasted government resources. For these and many other reasons articulated elsewhere, none of the documents released by Wikileaks are replicated, cited, or analyzed in Missile Watch.

Missile Watch sponsorship program

The FAS has launched a new initiative aimed at expanding Missile Watch and ensuring its long-term viability. As the only publication dedicated exclusively to tracking illicit activity involving MANPADS, Missile Watch plays a unique role in documenting, assessing, and contextualizing developments in the MANPADS threat and global efforts to combat it. Providing this service is resource-intensive, however, and Missile Watch is currently an unfunded project. Your generous support will allow us to strengthen Missile Watch by

1) expanding our access to court documents and other untapped data sources,

2) improving our ability to assess the technical authenticity of online videos and photographs of illicit MANPADS,

increasing and diversifying our sources through the translation of more foreign language documents, and

3) broadening our coverage to include other advanced conventional weapons.

All sponsors will receive pre-publication access to each issue and invitations to annual virtual briefings on the MANPADS threat. Sponsors who contribute $100 or more will also receive a signed copy of the Small Arms Trade. Called “indispensible” by Foreign Policy Editor Moisés Naím, the book features a four-chapter history of the MANPADS threat and global efforts to control it. Additional benefits for major donors include customized briefings and, when appropriate, recognition in Missile Watch.

For more information on becoming a Missile Watch sponsor, click here.

Download full issue

Missile Watch – June 2010

Missile Watch

A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Vol. 3, Issue 2
June 2010
Editor: Matt Schroeder
Contributing Author: Scoville Fellow Matt Buongiorno


Global News: Survey of black market prices for shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles reveals large differences in missile prices
Afghanistan: No shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles in seized Afghan arms caches, confirms ISAF spokesperson
Egypt: Shoulder-fired missiles found in the Sinai were old, “in very bad condition,” says Egyptian official
Iraq: Shoulder-fired missile in video of insurgent attack could be Iranian
Iraq: Missile seized in 2008 was a 30-year-old Russian Strela-2M MANPADS, documents reveal
Iraq: At least 27 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles seized from arms caches in Iraq since February
Lebanon: Israeli claim about Igla-S delivery to Hezbollah raises many questions
Peru: U.S. government concerned over reported missile diversion in Peru, but praises investigation
Somalia: Shoulder-fired missile attack at Mogadishu airport foiled by peace-keepers, according to UN report

Additional News & Resources

About Missile Watch

About the Authors

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Missile Watch – February 2010

Missile Watch
A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project
Vol. 3, Issue 1
February 2010
Editor: Matt Schroeder
Contributing Author: Matt Buongiorno
Graphics: Alexis Paige


Global Overview

Afghanistan: No recent discoveries of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles in insurgent arms caches
Eritrea: UN slaps arms embargo on major missile proliferator
Iraq: Fewer public reports of seized shoulder-fired missiles in Iraq, but MANPADS still a threat
Ireland: Alleged plot to shoot down a police helicopter may have involved surface-to-air missile
Myanmar: 300 shoulder-fired missiles in insurgent arsenal, claims Thai Colonel
North Korea: North Korean arms shipment included MANPADS, Thai report confirms
Peru: Igla missiles stolen from Peruvian military arsenals, claims alleged trafficker
Spain: Failed assassination attempts underscore the risks for terrorists of relying on black market missiles
United States: Congress to receive DHS report on anti-missile systems for commercial airliners in February
United States: Documents from trial of the “Prince of Marbella” reveal little about his access to shoulder-fired missiles
United States: No new international MANPADS sales since 1999
Venezuela: U.S. receives “assurances” from Russia regarding controls on shoulder-fired missiles sold to Venezuela, but questions remain

Additional News & Resources

About Missile Watch

About the Authors


Global Overview


This issue of Missile Watch features big news out of Thailand. A North Korean arms shipment seized by Thai officials in December contained “five crates of MANPADS SAM[s]”, according to an official Thai government report. The report, which was obtained by Bloomberg News in late January, appears to confirm North Korea as an illicit source of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles. Depending on the origins and model of the missiles, this case could have profound implications for international efforts to curb missile trafficking. Also notable are reports of a Peruvian trafficking ring that stole at least seven Strela and Igla missiles from government arsenals and sold them to Colombian rebels, and of insurgent arsenals in Myanmar that contain 300 missiles – a stockpile comparable in size to the holdings of many small states. These reports illustrate the continued availability of illicit missiles to armed groups despite a decade-long international campaign to strengthen export controls and secure government stockpiles.

The news isn’t all bad, however. Recent reports suggest that most armed groups continue to rely – often clumsily – on older first-generation infra-red seeking missiles, which are difficult to use effectively and often malfunction, as evidenced by the Basque terrorist group ETA’s failed attempts to shoot down the Spanish Prime Minister’s plane in 2001. This is not the first failed terrorist missile attack, and it will not be the last. In 2002, for example, an al-Qaeda affiliated group in Kenya armed with two SA-7b missiles missed an Israeli airliner as it was leaving Mombasa. The more of these spectacular failures that come to light, the less demand there will be amongst armed groups for first and second generation missiles. Or at least that is the hope. In those comparatively rare cases when terrorists are able to acquire and effectively use newer missiles, modern anti-missile technology may provide an effective last line of defense, as illustrated by the recent “multiple IR engagement” thwarted by the missile defense system on a Chinook helicopter reportedly operating in Iraq.[1] Whether this last line of defense will be extended to commercial airliners will be determined, in part, by Congress’ reaction to Department of Homeland Security’s long-awaited report on its Counter-MANPADS program, which will be delivered to key congressional committees this month.

Also encouraging are recent actions taken against missile trafficking and the governments that facilitate it. The same month that the Thai government moved against missile trafficking in their country, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, the supplier of thousands of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, to the militant Somali group al Shebab. The embargo comes none too soon. A spokesman for the group recently threatened to come to the aid of their “Muslim brothers” in Yemen,[2] an apparent reference to the al Qaeda affiliate responsible for the failed attack on the US-bound airliner in December. Extensive involvement in Yemen’s civil war by al Shebab would be very bad for the Yemeni government and its western allies, especially if the militants bring their missiles. It remains to be seen if the embargo will motivate Eritrea to stop arming Somali militants, or at least stop arming them with sophisticated light weapons.

Country Reports

Afghanistan: No Recent Discoveries of Shoulder-fired Antiaircraft Missiles in Insurgent Arms Caches, Confirms ISAF Spokesperson

No MANPADS were found in seized insurgent arms caches in late 2009, according to the US military. A spokesperson from the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (IJC) told the Federation of American Scientists that “[t]he ISAF Joint Command intelligence section is not aware of any man-portable surface-to-air missile finds by ISAF units since the IJC’s inception in October 2009.”[3] To date, the ISAF has largely been spared the problems associated with the widespread proliferation of surface-to-air missiles that has plagued Coalition forces operating in Iraq (see Missile Watch #3: Black Market Missiles Still Common in Iraq).

While the reasons for the difference in illicit missile activity in Iraq and Afghanistan are not entirely clear, one likely factor is availability. Shortly after the US invasion, hundreds of missiles were looted from unsecured arms depots scattered across Iraq. Much of the looting, notes Government Accountability Office in a 2007 report, “…was conducted by organized elements that were likely aided or spearheaded by Iraqi military personnel,”[4] – future members of insurgent groups. There is no comparable domestic source of missiles for the Taliban. The absence of a convenient domestic source would not preclude acquisition of shoulder-fired missiles on the international black market, however, and there is strong evidence that the Taliban has acquired missiles – namely Chinese HN-5s – from sources abroad, but their numbers appear to be limited. The extent to which these missiles have been used against ISAF aircraft is unknown. Publicly available information on insurgent activity suggests, however, that few if any of the missiles have been used successfully.

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Eritrea: UN Slaps Arms Embargoes on Major Missile Proliferator

After years of supplying weapons to Somali militants in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, the UN has slapped an arms embargo on the government of Eritrea. Resolution 1907, which was approved by a 13-1 vote in the Security Council in December,[5] imposes a ban on the international transfer of arms to and from Eritrea. It also authorized UN member states to inspect cargo crossing their territory if a violation is suspected, and to seize and dispose of any illicit weapons that are discovered.

Eritrea ranks high on the list of MANPADS proliferators. In recent years, UN investigators have documented shipments containing dozens of MANPADS from Eritrea to Somalia in violation of a long-standing UN arms embargo. In 2007, an SA-18 missile “delivered by Eritrea,” according to UN investigators,[6] was used by Somali militants to shoot down a Belarusian cargo aircraft departing from Mogadishu. The Eritrean government has denied the accusations, but additional evidence collected by investigators in recent years appears to support the earlier claims. An SA-18 Igla missile “found in Somalia” by UN investigators, for example, was later traced back to a shipment of Russian weaponry delivered to Eritrea in 1995.[7]

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Iraq: Fewer public reports of seized shoulder-fired missiles in Iraq, but MANPADS still a threat

Publicly available reports of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles discovered in insurgent arms caches in Iraq dropped off precipitously in 2009, but the reason for this decline is unclear. A survey of English-language media and US military sources yielded information on only a handful of illicit MANPADS recovered from arms caches in 2009, as opposed to dozens in previous years (See Missile Watch #3: Black Market Missiles Still Common in Iraq). Given the rigor of US and Iraqi efforts to recover illicit weapons and dismantle arms trafficking networks, it is possible that terrorists and insurgents did indeed have access to fewer missiles in 2009. It is also possible, however, that seized MANPADS simply are not being reported as frequently, possibly for security reasons. When queried about the apparent decrease, a representative from Multi-National Forces-Iraq declined to comment, saying only that “[f]or operational security, we are unable to provide such details…”[8]

Regardless of the reason for the decline in reported seizures, MANPADS remain a threat in Iraq, as evidenced by a recent incident in which a Chinook military helicopter was engaged by “multiple IR MANPADS.” The attack, which was first reported by Aviation Week’s David Fulghum, was reportedly thwarted by the helicopter’s anti-missile system.[9]

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Ireland: Alleged plot to shoot down a police helicopter may have involved surface-to-air missiles

In December, the Belfast Telegraph reported that “[d]issident republicans” had obtained an unspecified surface-to-air missile and were “…planning to use it to shoot down a helicopter full of police officers…” The article provides no additional details on the missile or the alleged plot, although an unidentified “police source” suggests that the “missile” may instead be a rocket-propelled grenade: “They [the dissidents] have access to rocket-propelled grenades or other surface-to-air missile [sic] and one of their priorities is to take out a helicopter.”[10] The Irish government and the Independent Monitoring Commission declined to comment on the story, and an email to the author of the Telegraph article went unanswered.

Too little information is available to assess the accuracy of the Telegraph’s claims. Yet even if Irish dissidents have access to a missile, a successful attack is far from guaranteed. Like many terrorist and insurgents worldwide, armed groups in Ireland have a long, largely unsuccessful history of illicit activity involving shoulder-fired missiles. Repeated attempts by the IRA to acquire Stinger missiles in the United States ended in jail time for many of the would-be missile traffickers,[11] and even when the group succeeded in procuring missiles with help of the Libyan government,[12] the IRA never effectively incorporated the missiles into its campaign against the British.[13] In the late 1990s, the group reportedly supplied some of its missiles to the Basque group ETA, who also failed to use them effectively (See below: “Spain: Alleged ETA member reveals details of failed attempts to assassinate Spanish prime minister”).

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Myanmar: 300 shoulder-fired missiles in insurgent arsenal, claims Thai Colonel

A Thai military official interviewed by the International Herald Tribune in November claimed that the United Wa State Army, a Burmese insurgent group, possesses 300 “shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles”[14] – a stockpile that is comparable in size to those of many small states. No additional details on the missiles were provided.

According to Jane’s Information Group, the Wa’s missile holdings consist of older SA-7s acquired in the early 1990s from “Cambodian black market sources,” and more sophisticated HN-5Ns from China.[15] These reports appear to be a decade old, however, so it is possible that the composition of the Wa’s current missile stockpile is very different.

If Colonel Peeranate’s estimate is accurate and the missiles are operational, the Wa’s missile stockpile is one of the largest non-state arsenals in the world. Little is known about the security of the Wa’s weapons, but the general lack of accountability and formal controls on insurgent arms caches and the size of the stockpile raises concerns about theft, loss and diversion, and the possibility that some of the missiles will end up on the black market.

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North Korea: North Korean arms shipment included man-portable air defense systems, Thai report confirms

The Federation of American Scientists has learned that a cargo plane loaded with weapons from North Korea that was grounded in Bangkok in December contained man-portable air defense systems. According to a Thai report to the UN Security Council obtained by Bloomberg in January, the cargo contained “five crates of MANPADS SAM[s]”. The manufacturer, model and year of the MANPADS are not identified.[16] This information is required to fully assess the implications of the seizure, and to craft strategies for preventing similar shipments.

It is possible that the missiles were manufactured in North Korea, which has produced the Chinese HN-5 and the Soviet SA-14 and SA-16 under license,[17] and the Soviet SA-7 and US Stinger missile, which it reverse-engineered from missile technology acquired from Egypt in the 1970s and from the Afghan Mujahideen in the 1980s, respectively.[18] Another possibility is that the missiles were foreign-made and were transiting through, or were re-exported from, North Korea. This scenario could also have profound implications, depending on the origin and age of the missiles. Newly manufactured foreign missiles would suggest a recent government-to-government sale to North Korea – an egregious violation of the spirit if not the letter of international agreements on controlling MANPADS – or diversion from government stockpiles, which would likely be indicative of serious shortcomings in stockpile security policies and practices.

North Korea as a source of illicit MANPADS poses a significant challenge for policymakers since few if any of the diplomatic carrots and sticks used to secure MANPADS elsewhere would be effective vis-a-vis the Hermit Kingdom. Interdiction efforts associated with UN Security Council Resolution 1874 will likely make it more difficult to traffic in weaponry from North Korea, but shoulder-fired missiles are easy to smuggle, and adequately screening the contents of every plane and ship departing from North Korea would be impossible. The best that can reasonably be hoped for is that vigilance by North Korea’s neighbors and robust patrolling of international waters will limit North Korea’s arms smuggling in the near term, and that prioritization of the MANPADS proliferation threat by the six-party nations in negotiations with North Korean officials will yield a longer term solution.

The Thai report identifies Mahrabad Airport in Iran as the aircraft’s destination, although Thai officials have subsequently stated that Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates were also listed as stops in the flight documentation.[19] The Iranians have denied any involvement in the transfer, pointing out that they have no need for the shipment since Iran’s defense industry produces its own “modern weapons”.[20] But it is possible that the Iranians had ordered the weapons not for their own use but for their proxies in Lebanon or elsewhere. Foreign missiles would allow the Iranians to provide like-minded armed groups with much-needed air defense systems while maintaining plausible deniability regarding their role in the transfer. A similar strategy was pursued by the United States during the clandestine campaign to arm and train the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet occupation.[21] If the North Korean weapons were bound for Iran, they may have been intended for a similar purpose.

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Peru: Igla missiles stolen from Peruvian Military, claims alleged trafficker

A self-proclaimed “logistics specialist” for Colombian rebels reportedly obtained seven Stela and Igla surface-to-air missiles from the arsenals of the Peruvian military according to the Miami Herald and the Lima-based La Republica newspaper. Ecuadorian national Freddy Torres allegedly acquired the missiles, along with other weapons, from a trafficking ring comprised of members of the Peruvian air force, army and police.[22] Four of the missiles were purchased between May and October 2008 and the remaining three were purchased in 2009, according to Juan Tamayo of the Miami Herald. Each of the missiles was reportedly purchased for “the sum of 45,000 US dollars.”[23]

Assuming man-portable Strela and Igla missiles were indeed stolen from Peruvian arsenals and sold to Colombian rebels, this case could have significant implications. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has tried unsuccessfully for years to acquire missiles capable of countering the Colombian armed forces growing fleet of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, which are critical to its counter-insurgency operations.  While a handful of Strela and Iglas will not turn the tide of the war in the FARC’s favor, the missiles could be very disruptive to Colombian air operations, at least in the short term.

Of greater consequence is the potential terrorist threat from the missiles.  In the hands of a trained operator, a well-maintained missile poses a significant threat to civilian planes, including airliners; at least 45 civilian aircraft have been shot down by man-portable air defense systems worldwide since 1975.[24] The missiles are of significant value to the FARC’s war against the Colombian government and therefore the rebels are unlikely to use the missiles against commercial airliners.  However, they could be used against high-value civilian targets such top government or military officials.  The missiles could also be stolen or sold on the black market, where they would they could be acquired by terrorists with designs on an airliner.

The missile theft is also a critical test of the region’s commitment to combating the shoulder-fired missile threat.  In 2005, the 35 members of the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted AG/RES.2145, a set of guidelines that urges member states to, inter alia, “…adopt and maintain strict national controls and security measures on Man-Portable Air Defense Systems and their essential equipment.”  These guidelines include specific, rigorous stockpile security measures, such as separate storage of missiles and launchers, 24-hour surveillance, and strict controls on access to missiles.[25] The diversion of multiple missiles over a period of months raises serious questions about the Peruvian government’s implementation of these guidelines and the security of the rest of its missile stockpile, which numbers in the hundreds, according to Jane’s Information Group.[26] A robust response to this incident would show the region and the world that the OAS and its member states take the illicit trade in terrorist technology seriously and are willing to match rhetoric with action.

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Spain: Failed assassination attempts underscore the risks for terrorists of relying on black market missiles

Intelligence obtained from an alleged member of the Basque terrorist group ETA revealed three failed attempts to shoot down the Spanish prime minister’s plane with a shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile acquired from the Irish Republican Army in 1999. According to the Telegraph, the plots came to light after the arrest of the suspected ETA member, who reportedly told Spanish investigators that the group had tried three times in April and May 2001 to shoot down the plane but that the missile had malfunctioned each time. A letter addressed to the IRA discovered in the suspect’s home reportedly complains about defective missiles allegedly sold to ETA by IRA members based in Germany.[27] The missiles were seized from an ETA arms cache by French authorities in 2004.[28]

Media reports do not indicate whether authorities believe that the missiles used in the botched attack was indeed faulty or was used incorrectly. Contrary to popular belief, shoulder-fired missiles aren’t simply point-and-shoot weapons; they require training to use effectively, and it is not clear what training, if any, ETA members received in the operation of the missiles. Regardless of the reason for the failed attacks, this case underscores the risks for terrorists of relying on black market missiles, especially when the missiles are first generation technology that is nearing the end (or is past) its estimated shelf life and may have been tampered with or stored improperly. It is hoped that ETA’s bumbling – along with other spectacular failures like the unsuccessful missile attack on an Israeli airliner in Kenya in 2002 – will reduce black market demand for the most widely available (i.e. first generation) shoulder-fired missiles as terrorists recognize the folly of planning high-profile attacks around weapon systems that they do not fully understand and that may not function properly.

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United States: Congress to receive DHS report on anti-missile systems for commercial airliners in February

The Federation of American Scientists has learned that a long-awaited report on the feasibility of installing anti-missile systems on commercial airliners is nearly finished, and will be delivered to Congress in February. “The report is nearing the end of review; we are still expecting a February delivery to Hill staff,” a DHS spokesperson confirmed in a correspondence with the Federation of American Scientists. The report, which will be sent to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, summarizes the results of a program launched in 2003 to assess the “…viability, economic costs and effectiveness of adapting existing technology from military to commercial aviation use.” As noted in the last issue of Missile Watch, the response from Congress to the report will be a critical indicator of whether its early enthusiasm for outfitting commercial airliners with anti-missile systems – a multi-billion dollar undertaking – has survived DHS’ lengthy evaluation process and a constant barrage of competing agenda items.

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United States: Documents from trial of the “Prince of Marbella” contain additional information on shoulder-fired missiles

Court documents recently obtained by the Federation of American Scientists provide some additional insight into the historic case of famed arms trafficker Monzer Al Kassar, but many important questions remain unanswered. In 2007, Kassar was arrested after allegedly agreeing to sell thousands of weapons, including shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, to undercover informants posing as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). A year later, Kassar was extradited to the United States and tried in New York, where he was convicted of, inter alia, conspiring to “acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles.”[29] The surprising arrest and conviction of Kassar brought an abrupt end to the career of one of the most prolific traffickers in recent history. According to the US government, clients of Kassar’s have included armed groups in Bosnia, Brazil, Croatia, Cyprus, Iraq, Iran, and Somalia, among others.[30]

Hundreds of court documents obtained by the Federation of American Scientists provide additional insight into the case, including Kassar’s offer to sell MANPADS to Colombian rebels. Summaries of phone conversations between Kassar and the DEA informants indicate that Kassar “…spoke about various types of surface-to-air missile systems– including SAM-7s, SAM-16s, and SAM-18s – and the systems’ respective abilities to destroy U.S. helicopters.” Previously released documents only reference the SA-7, a first generation Soviet-era missile that is easier to acquire and less capable than the SA-16 and SA-18. However, none of the documents reveal whether Kassar actually had access to the missiles, or – if he did – how many he had or where he acquired them. The Federation of American Scientists will continue to research these questions and report any additional findings in future issues of Missile Watch.

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United States: No New International MANPADS Sales since 1999, says Raytheon

A spokesperson for the US defense firm Raytheon recently told the Federation of American Scientists that the U.S. government has not entered into new deals for Stinger MANPADS with foreign clients since 1999. In an email correspondence, Raytheon official Ty Blanchard told said that “[s]ince 1999, the U.S. government has denied requests from non-NATO countries asking for Stinger MANPADS. We have not had any requests from NATO countries in the last ten years.”[31]

This record of restraint illustrates the disparity in the policies of the major arms exporting states. Even as the US has curtailed international sales of man-portable Stingers, other countries have sold advanced systems to governments with dubious stockpile security and end-use controls.[32] Failure to align the policies of exporting countries could erode nascent global standards for MANPADS exports and undo much of the progress toward eliminating the terrorist missile threat achieved to date.

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Venezuela: U.S. receives “assurances” from Russia regarding controls on shoulder-fired missiles sold to Venezuela, but key questions remain

The Federation of American Scientists has learned that US officials have received “assurances” from the Russian government regarding end-use controls on SA-24 MANPADS sold to Venezuela, but detailed information on the nature and implementation of these controls remain scant. This information is critical to determining whether the SA-24s and the “thousands” of additional missiles[33] that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez claims to be importing are in danger of being diverted to armed groups in the region or elsewhere.

In response to a query about the sale, a State Department spokeswoman told the Federation of American Scientists that U.S. officials “…have expressed our concerns to the Russian government on the control and security of arms transferred to Venezuela” and that they have “…received assurances from the Russian government that the deal conforms with end-use controls that meet international standards.”[34] The official did not indicate whether Russia has provided the US government with a list of specific controls, or the extent to which these controls have been implemented. The Russian and Venezuelan governments have yet to respond to requests from the Federation of American Scientists for additional information.

The most prominent set of ‘international standards’ on MANPADS controls are the Elements for Export Controls of MANPADS. Under the Elements, Russia has agreed to “…satisfy itself of the recipient government’s willingness and ability to implement effective measures for secure storage, handling, transportation, use of MANPADS material, and disposal or destruction of excess stocks to prevent unauthorised access and use.”[35] A more detailed set of procedures is laid out in an annex to the OSCE’s Best Practice Guide on National Procedures for Stockpile Management and Security of MANPADS, which the Russian government helped to draft. Minimally, the Russian government should ensure that Venezuela’s stockpile security and end-use policies and practices conform to the Wassenaar Arrangement’s Elements and the OSCE’s Best Practice Guide, and the Organization of American States’ Guidelines for Control and Security of MANPADS. Given the history of diversion from Venezuela’s arsenals,[36] regular on-site inventories and inspections by Russian officials are also merited. Failure to take these steps would raise serious questions about the Russian government’s commitment to implementing key international agreements and guidelines, including guidelines it helped to draft.

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Additional News & Resources (11/ 2009- 1/2010)

About the Authors

Matt Schroeder is the Manager of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists. Since joining FAS in February 2002, he has written more than 80 books, articles and other publications on US arms transfers, arms export policies, and the illicit arms trade. He is a co-author of the book The Small Arms Trade (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007), and a consultant for the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.

Matt Buongiorno is currently serving as a Scoville Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists where he is working on small arms issues, U.S. nuclear policy issues, and Iranian nuclear issues. In addition to his work with FAS, Matt is staffing the 2010 National Model United Nations, a conference in New York that draws over 4,000 students and aspiring diplomats. He earned a B.A. in economics and political science from Texas Christian University in 2009.

About Missile Watch

Missile Watch is a quarterly publication by the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists that tracks the illicit proliferation and use of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), and international efforts to combat the terrorist threat from shoulder-fired missiles.

To sign up for Missile Watch, go to /press/subscribe.html.

[1]David Fulghum, “Laser Saves Helo in Multi-SAM Ambush,”, 7 January 2010.

[2]“Yemen slams Shebab pledge to send fighters,” AFP, 2 January 2010.

[3]Correspondence with Major Steve Cole, spokesman for the IJC, 5 January 2010.

[4]DOD Should Apply Lessons Learned Concerning the Need for Security over Conventional Munitions Storage Sites to Future Operations Planning, Government Accountability Office, March 2007, p. 7.

[5]Colum Lynch, “U.N. Security Council orders arms embargo on Eritrea,” The Washington Post, 24 December 2009.

[6]Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia, S/2007/436, 18 July 2007, p. 15.

[7]Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia, S/2008/274, 24 April 2008, p. 24-25.

[8]Correspondence with MNF-Iraq, 19 November 2009. FOIA requests for similar information have also been denied. In January, US Central Command denied the release of six documents responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the FAS for information on “man-portable air defense systems collected or seized by Iraqi Security Forces or Coalition forces from 1 January 2007 to 1 June 2008.”

[9]David Fulghum, “Laser Saves Helo in Multi-SAM Ambush,”, 7 January 2010. While US Army officials did not identify the location of the attack, “…other military sources indicate it was in Iraq,” according to Fulghum.

[10]Deborah McAleese, “New Dissident Target…a Police Helicopter; Plan to Blast Lightly-armoured PSNI Chopper out of the Sky,” Belfast Telegraph, 2 December 2009.

[11]See Schroeder, Stohl and Smith, The Small Arms Trade (Oneworld Publications, 2007), p. 98-103.

[12]Smuggling efforts involving Libya were more fruitful. In the 1970s and 80s, the group acquired several MANPADS as part of a series of weapons shipments allegedly arranged by the Libyan government. But even these shipments were vulnerable to interdiction. The Eskund, for example, which reportedly contained 150 tons of weaponry, including 20 SA-7 missiles, was seized by French authorities in 1987.

[13]See Ian Bruce, “Why They’re Never Short of a Gun,” The Herald (Glasgow), 26 January 1998.

[14]“A Rebel Stronghold in Myanmar on Alert,” International Herald Tribune, 6 November 2009.

[15]“United Wa State Army (UWSA),” Jane’s World Insurgency and Terrorism, updated 11 November 2009 and Anthony Davis, “Myanmar heat turned up with SAMS from China,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, 28 March 2001.

[16]Some media reports identified the missiles as Chinese HN-5s, but these claims have not been corroborated.

[17]O’Halloran and Foss, Jane’s Land-based Air Defense 2008-2009 (Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 22.

[18]O’Halloran and Foss, p. 22 and Schroeder, Stohl, Smith, The Small Arms Trade, p. 88.

[19]Daniel Ten Kate, “Thailand Urges UN Action on N. Korean Arms Cache as Cost Rises,” Bloomberg, 3 February 2010.

[20]“Seized Weapons Plane in Thailand not Heading for Iran: Official,” Tehran Times, 3 February 2010.

[21]The Central Intelligence Agency purchased weapons, including MANPADS, from Eastern European countries and China, refraining from sending more effective US Stinger missile until the final years of the campaign.

[22]Juan Tamayo, “Farc Rebels’ Missile Purchase Raises Concerns,” Miami Herald, 16 February 2010 and “Stolen Peruvian Arms Sold to Colombian Rebels,” EFE, 13 January 2010.

[23]Tamayo, “FARC Rebels’ Missile Purchase Raises Concerns”

[24]US Government data provided to the Federation of American Scientists, January 2010.

[25]Denying MANPADS to Terrorists: Control and Security of MAN-Portable Air Defense Systems, Adopted 7 June 2005, available at /asmp/campaigns/MANPADS/2005/OASmanpads.pdf.

[26]See “Peru,” Jane’s World Armies, posted 8 January 2010.

[27]Fiona Govan, “Spanish PM saved from assassination by faulty IRA missile,” Telegraph, 18 January 2010.

[28]“French police find anti-aircraft missiles in ETA cache,” Associated Press Worldstream, 5 October 2004.

[29]“International Arms Trafficker Monzer al Kassar and Associate Sentenced on Terrorism Charges,” US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York, 24 February 2009.

[30]United States of America –v. – Mozer Al Kassar, a/k/a “Abu Munawar,” a/k/a “El Taous,” Tareq Mousa al Gahzi, and Luis Felipe Moreno Godoy, June 2007, p. 1.

[31]Correspondence with Ty Blanchard, Raytheon’s business development manager for army advanced programmes, 2 February 2010.

[32]See, for example, Andrei Chang, “China ships more advanced weapons to Sudan,” UPI Asia, 28 March 2008.

[33]“Chavez: Venezuela acquires thousands of missiles,” Associated Press, 7 December 2009. According to the Associated Press, Chavez claimed in early December 2009 that “[t]housands of missiles…”and rocket launchers, reportedly Russian-made, “…are arriving” in Venezuela, although he did not identify the type of missiles and rockets.

[34]Correspondence with State Department officials, 12 January 2010. The full response from the State Department reads as follows: “Russia is a major supplier of arms to Venezuela. We have expressed our concerns to the Russian government on the control and security of arms transferred to Venezuela. We have received assurances from the Government of Russia that the deal conforms with end-use controls that meet international standards. Particularly given reports of Venezuelan-origin [weapons] surfacing in neighboring countries, we urge the Government of Venezuela to implement strict controls to prevent the diversion of arms and ammunition.”

[35]These measures include monthly physical inventories of all imported missiles and launchers, storage of missiles and launchers in separate locations, continuous (24-hour) surveillance, and limiting storage site access to two people with proper security clearances, among others.

[36]For a partial list of recent reports, see footnote 5 in “Securing Venezuela’s Arsenals,” FAS Strategic Security Blog, 24 August 2009.

Missile Watch: Global Update (April – October 2009)

Youtube SA24 video

Missile Watch

A publication of the FAS Arms Sales Monitoring Project

Vol. 2, Issue 2

October 2009

Written by Matt Schroeder and Scoville Fellow Matt Buongiorno


Documents obtained by FAS shed some light on Viktor Bout case, but key questions remain

By Matt Schroeder

Documents provided to the Federation of American Scientists by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York provide additional details about the case against alleged arms trafficker Viktor Bout, but many important questions remain (publicly) unanswered. Below is a brief summary of these documents and their significance.


Viktor Bout and an alleged associate, Andrew Smulian, were arrested in Thailand in March 2008 after an elaborate international sting operation organized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).   Bout and Smulian have been accused of, among other offenses, conspiring to sell thousands of weapons to three “confidential sources” (CS) working with the DEA who were posing as representatives of the FARC, a Colombian terrorist group.  Since his arrest, Bout has been the subject of an international legal tug-of-war between Washington, which is seeking his extradition to the US, and Moscow, which is demanding that he be returned to Russia.  In August, Thai courts denied US extradition requests. Prosecutors appealed the ruling and are currently awaiting a decision on the appeal.

The Documents

The documents obtained by the FAS include copies of several pieces of evidence in the case, some of which were reportedly seized from Bout at the time of his arrest.  These documents include:

(1)   A print-out of an email that Bout allegedly sent to one of the DEA’s confidential sources. This email is mentioned prominently in other court documents made public shortly after Bout was arrested.  Oddly, the email was reportedly sent from an address linked to an account set up by a “Victor But.”   Use of an alias so close to his own name when setting up an email account intended for negotiating arms transfers seems uncharacteristically careless for Bout.

(2)   Excerpts from pamphlets on Soviet-era cargo planes that Bout allegedly recommended for delivering weapons to the FARC. According to investigators, the weapons were to be air-dropped from these planes.  The same delivery method was used by the orchestrators of a 1999 plot to divert to the FARC 50,000 Jordanian assault rifles intended for the Peruvian military.  The traffickers managed to drop 10,000 of the rifles into FARC-controlled areas of Colombia before the government of Jordan learned of the scheme and canceled the deal. In their book, Merchant of Death, Doug Farah and Stephen Braun suggest that Bout was linked to the diversion.  They claim that the plane used to deliver the rifles “…belong[ed] to one of Bout’s front companies…”

(3)  One of several articles on the FARC that describes their criminal activities.

(4) A map of South America that Bout reportedly used in discussions about the locations of American radar stations.


(5) Handwritten notes that Bout reportedly took during the meeting in Thailand. The notes include short-hand references to various weapons, including “AA” or anti-aircraft (believed to be a reference to Igla missiles), “AK-47,” “UAV” (unmanned aerial vehicle), 10,000,000 “7,62 x 54” (ammunition used in Russian Dragunov sniper rifles and PKM machine guns), RPG-7 and RPG-22 rocket launchers, and “AG-17” – presumably a reference to the AGS-17 30 mm automatic grenade launcher.  Some of the notes are more cryptic, including references to 500 “60 mm”, 200 “82 mm” and 40 “120 mm.”  Presumably, these are references to mortars since 60mm, 82mm and 120mm are all common calibers for mortar bombs.

(6) Technical documents on anti-tank missiles that Bout allegedly offered to sell to the FARC. The documents were reportedly taken from a memory stick provided to the DEA during the sting.  It appears that missile on offer was the AT-4 Spigot, a wire-guided Russian missile system that has a maximum range of 2000-2500 meters and can penetrate up to 400-460 mm of armor, depending on the type of missile used.

Other documents received by the FAS include affidavits from key players, the complaint and the indictment, most of which have been thoroughly dissected by the media.

Absent from the documents is a description of the 100 Igla missiles that Andrew Smulian reportedly claimed were immediately available to Bout.  Exhibit 6 of the Rebuttal Affidavit Concerning Request for Extradition reportedly contains “…photographs and specifications for anti-aircraft missiles…” but this material was not provided to the FAS.  The material on the anti-aircraft missiles would be useful in determining which of the three Russian missiles typically referred to as “Iglas” were allegedly accessible to Bout:  the SA-16, SA-18 or SA-24.  The first two models date back to the early 1980s and, while dangerous in the wrong hands, appear to be are less capable than the newer SA-24.  The SA-24 is also less widely available, meaning that it would presumably be easier to identify the point of diversion and the origin of black market SA-24s than SA-16s or SA-18s, both of which have proliferated widely.

While the documents contain some important details and add texture to the unfolding drama in Bangkok, they shed little additional light on several key questions, including whether Bout and Smulian actually had access to the weapons that they allegedly promised to deliver to the FARC.  This question is particularly important in regards to the 100 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, which, as explained in an earlier posting on the Strategic Security Blog, have been the focus of an international control campaign for nearly seven years because of the threat they pose to military and commercial aircraft.  Confirmation that Bout had access to the missiles would suggest the need for renewed vigor in the global fight against shoulder-fired missile proliferation.  Also unaddressed is the veracity of Smulian’s alleged claims that the weapons were located in Bulgaria, which was also reportedly identified by arms dealer Monzer al Kassar as his source of weapons during a similar sting in 2007.  According to Kassar’s indictment, he invited a DEA informant to “travel to Bulgaria and Romania where the weapons [on offer] were being manufactured”.  Investigating these claims is important because, if entities in Bulgaria are indeed offering to sell Igla missiles and the other weapons to arms traffickers, immediate action should be taken to identify them and shut down their operations.

Below is a list of some of the documents obtained by the FAS:

(1) Bout Complaint

(2) Bout Indictment

(3) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 1 (email allegedly from Bout)

(4) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 2 (plane Brochures)

(5) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 3 (article on FARC)

(6) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 4 (map of South America)

(7) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 5 (hand-written notes)

(8) Bout Rebuttal Affidavit in Support of Extradition 02.17.2009 – EX 6 (AT-4 Spigot description)

(9) Bout Affidavit in Support of Extradition 04.28.2008 – EX 1 (indictment)

(10) Bout Affidavit in Support of Extradition 04.28.2008 – EX A (photo of Bout)

Securing Venezuela’s Arsenals

By Matt Schroeder


The recent discovery of Swedish AT-4 anti-tank rockets sold to Venezuela in a Colombian rebel arms cache raises serious questions about Venezuela’s ability to safeguard its arsenal of modern weaponry, including dozens of advanced SA-24 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles.  Given the potential threat posed by these missiles and other weapons in Venezuela’s rapidly growing arsenal, the international community should take immediate steps to identify and close the gaps in Venezuela’s stockpile security and to ensure that the end-use monitoring conducted by states that export weapons to Venezuela is sufficiently robust.

According to Colombian authorities, Swedish anti-tank rocket launchers were found in October 2008 in an arms cache allegedly linked to the FARC.[1] On July 27th, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos asserted that “[i]n several operations in which we have recovered weapons from the FARC, we have found powerful munitions and powerful equipment, including anti-tank weapons, from a European country that sold them to Venezuela and that turned up in the hands of the FARC.”[2] Thomas Samuelsson of the Swedish firm Saab Bofors Dynamics confirmed that the AT-4 rockets were manufactured and sold to Venezuela by his firm.[3] The Venezuelan government responded harshly to Colombia’s revelation, calling it “laughable” and recalling the Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia.[4]

This is not the first time that Colombian authorities have discovered Venezuelan weapons in rebel arms caches.  In 2006, the Federation of American Scientists called attention to several reports of Venezuelan firearms acquired by the FARC, sometimes “…in lots of 50,” according to a demobilized guerrilla interviewed by Jane’s Information Group.[5] In most of these cases, it is not clear what role, if any, that Venezuelan government officials played in the diversion.  There is much speculation about the regime’s support of the FARC and its role in arms trafficking to the embattled rebel group,[6] but verifying accusations of high-level complicity by the Venezuelan government based on information in the public domain is nearly impossible and, at one level, it doesn’t matter.  The Venezuelan government is responsible for safeguarding the military’s arsenal and should be held accountable for any diverted weapons, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their diversion. The focus, therefore, should shift from the fruitless back-and-forth with Chavez over his regime’s alleged support for the FARC to identifying the specific sources of diverted weapons, bolstering Venezuelan stockpile security, and calling on states that arm Venezuela to closely monitor their exported weapons.

The need for strong controls on Venezuela’s arsenals has never been greater.  In April, the world got its first, surprising glimpse of dozens of sophisticated SA-24 surface-to-air missiles imported by Venezuela, presumably from Russia.  The missiles – the acquisition of which was rumored but not confirmed – were caught on tape during a military parade.  The SA-24 is an advanced, shoulder-fired, infra-red seeking missile with a range of 6000 meters.[7] Given recent events, the wisdom of selling dozens of sophisticated shoulder-fired missiles to Venezuela seems dubious.  But Chavez is not about to give up the missiles, and Russia is not about to take them back.  What to do?

The international community should start by demanding an immediate and thorough investigation into the diversion of Venezuelan weapons seized from Colombian rebels or other unauthorized end-users.  This investigation should be led by an independent organization such as the Organization of American States, which conducted a similar investigation into the diversion of Nicaraguan assault rifles in 2001.  As part of this investigation, the Venezuelan government should provide a detailed summary of the stockpile security measures currently applied to its small arms, light weapons, and ammunition.  This summary should be at least as detailed as the information provided by the United States in the U.S. Defense Department manual, “Physical Security of Sensitive Conventional Arms, Ammunition and Explosives,”[8] and should be made available to the Organization of American States, its members, and the governments of countries that sell weapons to Venezuela.    If done correctly, the investigation will reveal any problems with Venezuela’s stockpile security controls, and will provide a blueprint for any necessary changes to these controls.

Secondly, the states that export weapons to Venezuela should condition future weapon sales on a full and complete investigation into recent reports of arms trafficking and diversion, and the implementation of corrective actions aimed at preventing future incidents.  Countries that have recently suspended weapon sales to Venezuela should make it clear that arms sales will not resume until shortcomings in stockpile security are fully addressed and Venezuelan weapons stop turning up in the caches of illegal armed groups.

Exporting states should also adopt rigorous end-use monitoring requirements for all small arms and light weapons exported to Venezuela.  This monitoring should be applied retroactively to previously exported arms and should include on-site inspections of Venezuela’s weapons depots by officials from the exporting state; rigorous transport, use, storage and retransfer requirements and restrictions; and routine post-shipment checks of exported weapons. Additional controls should be applied (if they aren’t already in place) to the SA-24 shoulder-fired missiles, including mandatory on-site physical inventories by serial number of all missiles and launchers.  The inventories should be conducted monthly by Venezuelan authorities and annually by officials from exporting states.  The international community should monitor implementation of these measures by Venezuela and its arms suppliers, and should intervene if these governments fail to make adequate progress in a timely fashion.

Finally, the international community should embrace post-shipment end-use monitoring as a fundamental anti-trafficking strategy and should push for universal adoption of robust EUM by arms exporting states.  Venezuela is but one of many sources of illicit arms, even in South America, and the global nature of arms trafficking means that unsecured arsenals anywhere are a potential target for international traffickers everywhere. While stemming the illicit arms trade requires action on many fronts, onsite physical inspections of exported weapons are particularly important as they have the potential to deter unauthorized retransfer and ensure that incidents of diversion and lapses in stockpile security will be detected by the exporting state.  Few exporters actively and systematically track their weapons after they leave their shores, however, and fewer still regularly send officials to physically check on exported weapons.  According to Sarah Parker of Small Arms Survey, “[i]n practice…it seems that few states other than the United States conduct significant physical and post-delivery checks.”[9] This must change if arms exporters and their clients are ever to curb the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.


[1] Frank Bajak, “Rocket launchers sold to Venzuela went to FARC,” Associated Press, 28 July 2009.

[2] Arthur Brice, “Venezuela freezes relations with Colombia,” CNN, 29 July 2009.

[3] Chris Kraul, “Colombia-Venezuela relations erode further with rocket revelation,” Los Angeles Times, 28 July 2009.  During a telephone call on 30 July 2009, Swedish officials confirmed to the FAS that serial numbers on the seized missiles matched those sold to Venezuela.

[4] Chavez claims that the AT-4s were stolen from a naval post in Cararabo in 1995.  Others, including Anna Gilmour of Jane’s Information Group, think that the launchers were acquired more recently.  FARC leader Alfonso Cano claims that his group captured the launchers “a long time ago in a military battle on the border.”  See “FARC chief denies getting launchers from Venezuela,” Associated Press, 13 August 2009; “Chavez halts imports of 10,000 Colombian cars,” Agence France Presse, 6 August 2009; and Brice, “Venezuela freezes relations with Colombia.”

[5] ; Andy Webb-Vidal, “South American cocaine trafficking operations shift towards Venezuela,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, May 2006.  See also Gonzalo Guillen, “Venezuelan ammunition reaching rebels,” Miami Herald, 21 January 2008; David Gonzales, “Assembly to be Asked to Investigate Alleged Trafficking of Arms to Guerrillas,” El Nacional , 28 March 2005 (English translation); “General Tapias on Weapons Seized from Illegal Armed Groups in Past Five Years,” El Pais, 11 July 2000 (English translation); Andy Webb-Vidal, “Lords of War: Running the arms trafficking industry,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, May 2008; “Venezuelans admit charges of arm traffic in Colombia,” El Universal, 9 June 2008; Kim Cragin and Bruce Hoffman, Arms Trafficking and Colombia (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2003); UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Violence, Crime and Illegal Arms Trafficking in Colombia, December 2006;  Jose de Cordoba, “Colombia rebels wield power inside Venezuela,” Associated Press Financial Wire, 25 November 2008; and Matthew Schroeder, Small Arms, Terrorism and the OAS Firearms Convention, FAS Occasional Paper No. 1, March 2004.

[6] See Simon Romero, “Venezuela Still Aids Colombia Rebels, New Material Shows,” New York Times, 3 August 2009.   In September 2008, the US Treasury Department added two senior Venezuelan government officials and a former official to the Office of Foreign Asset Control’s list of Specially Designated Nationals list.  According to the Treasury Department, these officials “armed, abetted and funded the FARC…”  See “Treasury Targets Venezuelan Government Officials Supporting the FARC,” Press Release HP-1132, 12 September 2008.

[7] James C. O’Halloran and Christopher F. Foss, Jane’s Land-based Air Defense 2008-2009 (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[8] DOD 5100.76-M

[9] “Devils in Diversity: Export Controls for Military Small Arms,” in Small Arms Survey 2009: Shadows of War (Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 82.

Latest Missile Plot had Little Chance of Success, but ‘Stinger Stings’ are Valuable Tools

On Wednesday, the FBI thwarted an alleged terrorist plot to shoot down a military cargo plane with a Stinger missile.  According to a criminal complaint obtained by the New York Times, four men were arrested on charges of conspiring to use “a surface-to-air missile system to destroy military aircraft at the New York Air National Guard Base located at Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York. “ The plot also allegedly included plans for a simultaneous attack on a Bronx synagogue using an improvised explosive device containing more than 30 pounds of C-4 explosives.

The FBI operation in New York is one of several since the 1980s in which undercover US agents have thwarted  attempts to smuggle, acquire or use man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), including US-made Stinger missiles.  These plots feature conspirators that range from rank amateurs whose ability to obtain MANPADS is dubious at best to sophisticated criminals with a demonstrated ability to obtain and ship weapons to bad actors worldwide.  An example of the former is Hemant Lakhani, a British merchant born in India who was arrested in 2003 for attempting to import 200 Russian Igla missiles into the US and to sell them to individuals claiming to be members of a Somali terrorist organization.  Lakhani was so inept that undercover Russian agents ended up furnishing him with a (deactivated) SA-18 missile after he repeatedly tried and failed to obtain a missile himself.  The agents then had to reroute the missile after Lakhani arranged to have it delivered to the wrong address.

The suspects in the New York plot clearly fall into the same category as Lakhani – bumbling amateurs whose ambitions vastly exceed their actual abilities.   Relatives and others interviewed by the Associated Press used phrases like “down-on-their-luck” and “intellectually challenged” when describing the men, all of whom are ex-convicts and were either unemployed or working low-skill jobs when they were arrested. Furthermore, the complaint obtained by the New York Times indicates that the suspects asked the FBI’s confidential witness to teach them “how to operate the devices,” presumably including the deactivated Stinger missile supplied by the FBI.  While the basic operation of a MANPADS is not difficult to learn, successfully using them in real world conditions requires training and practice.  Without this training, the chances of shooting down a plane with a single missile are low.  It is also doubtful that the suspects could have acquired the missile without the help of the US government.  Stinger missiles are some of the US military’s most tightly guarded items and there are no (publicly) confirmed cases of successful thefts from US arsenals.  Nothing in the personal histories of the four men suggests that they had the knowledge or contacts necessary to pull off such a feat.

Even if the suspects in this case were incapable of acquiring a Stinger missile and shooting down a plane on their own, ‘Stinger Stings’ are a good investment.  They send a clear message to would-be terrorists and arms traffickers that the US is a dangerous place to do business, and sow seeds of doubt about loyalties and affiliations within criminal networks.   Occasionally, such operations also nab truly capable criminals, such as famed arms trafficker Monzer al Kassar, who was arrested in Spain after a lengthy undercover operation orchestrated by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.  Kassar was later extradited to the US and convicted of conspiring to supply Colombian guerrillas with millions of dollars in weapons, including MANPADS.   Another legendary arms dealer, Viktor Bout, may suffer a similar fate.  After eluding authorities for years, Bout was arrested by Thai police in March 2008 in an international sting that was remarkably similar to the one that nabbed Monzer al Kassar just nine months earlier.  Thai courts will decide later this summer whether Bout will be extradited to the US.  If he is, his (alleged) gun running days are over.  Taking Kassar and Bout off the streets may ultimately prevent the trafficking of thousands or tens of thousands of weapons to some of the world’s most dangerous groups.  Their arrests are proof positive that Stings are an essential element of any national strategy for combating the MANPADS threat, even if they don’t nab criminal masterminds every time.

Missile Watch #4: Global Update (January – March 2009)


In March, the Sunday Times of London reported on the Taliban’s alleged acquisition of Iranian-supplied SA-14 missiles, which the Afghan insurgent group reportedly wants for a “spectacular” attack on coalition forces. The accusation reportedly came from unidentified “American intelligence sources.” According to the Sunday Times, “…coalition forces only became aware of the presence of SA14s two weeks ago when parts from two of them were discovered during an American operation in western Afghanistan.” The article provides no information on the number of SA-14s allegedly circulating in Afghanistan, their condition, or Iran’s alleged connection to them. When queried about the Sunday Times article, a US military official told the Federation of American Scientists that “[man-portable air defense systems] have been recovered in Afghanistan since 2007,” but refused to provide additional details because of “operational security concerns.”

Other types of MANPADS reportedly acquired by the Taliban and other unauthorized end-users in Afghanistan include the Chinese HN-5, photographs of which were obtained by the Washington Times in 2007, and the ubiquitous SA-7.

For information on Iraq, Sri Lanka and Somalia, click here.

Missile Watch #3: Black Market Missiles Still Common in Iraq

Despite a million dollar buyback program and hundreds of raids on illicit weapons caches, US and Iraqi forces are still finding surface-to-air missiles in insurgent stockpiles.  US military press releases and media reports reveal that, since October 2006, at least 121 such missiles have been recovered, along with 4 additional launchers and various components.  These reports suggest that insurgents still have ready access to surface-to-air missiles, including MANPADS, at least some of which are reportedly still operational.  The missiles pose an immediate threat to civilian and military aircraft in Iraq and a potential threat to aircraft in the region.

To read the rest of Missile Watch #3, click here.

Missile Watch No. 2: Somalia

CNN and AFP are reporting that the Shabaab, a militant wing of a Somali insurgent group, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), has threatened to treat “as an enemy combatant” any plane that attempts to land at Mogadishu Airport.  According to AFP, the threat, which was posted on the Internet, was confirmed by Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow.  The web posting reportedly includes a list of grievances used to justify the threat, including the airport’s use by “Ugandan and Bulgarian mercenaries,” money generated by the airport for the Ethiopian government, and harassment of “Somali religious personalities” by “US and Israeli secret services…”  The warnings are accompanied by a graphic of a man pointing a shoulder-fired missile at a plane as it is landing.

The threat is not to be taken lightly. Last year, the FAS identified Somalia as one of three MANPADS proliferation hotspots worldwide in response to numerous reports of illicit missile activity, most of which involved the ICU and the Shabaab.  In 2006, UN investigators identified at least six shipments of MANPADS and other weapons to the violent Insurgent group, including a shipment of “50 units” of ”shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and second generation infrared-guided anti-tank weapons” from Eritrea, “45 units” of surface-to-air missiles from Iran, and three surface-to-air missiles from Syria.  In each case, the missiles were part of larger arms shipments that also included dozens of assault rifles, machine guns, and other small arms and light weapons.  The Associated Press later reported that the ICU had received 200 shoulder-fired missiles from Eritrea alone.

In March 2007, the Islamists fired two advanced SA-18 missiles at a Belarussian cargo aircraft as it was departing from Mogadishu International Airport.  One of the missiles hit the plane, causing it to crash and killing all eleven people on board.  UN investigators later concluded that the missiles used in the attack were part of a consignment of six SA-18s acquired from Eritrea.  This summer, the UN traced another SA-18 found in Somalia back to a batch of Russian missiles that were shipped to Eritrea in 1995. The Eritrean government denies allegations that it provides missiles and other weapons to the ICU.

To sign up for Missile Watch, click here.  For more information on illicit MANPADS in Somalia and elsewhere, see ASMP Issue Brief #1: MANPADS Proliferation.

written by Matt Schroeder

Missile Watch: Somalia

As part of its on-going efforts to track and call attention to the illicit trade in shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, the FAS is launching a new e-newsletter called “Missile Watch.” Subscribers will receive periodic updates on the black market trade in shoulder-fired missiles, stockpiling and use of these missiles by non-state groups, and related topics. A comprehensive archive of “Missile Watch” updates will be available on the Strategic Security Blog and on the Arms Sales Monitoring Project’s website at /programs/ssp/asmp/MANPADS.html.

To sign up for this free service, go to /press/subscribe.html.

The latest report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia sheds new light on the SA-18 Igla missiles illicitly acquired by armed Somali groups in recent years. Since 2006, UN investigators and journalists working in Somalia have documented the transfer of dozens, possibly hundreds, of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles to Islamic insurgents. The missiles range in sophistication from the relatively primitive SA-7b Strela to the third generation SA-18 Igla. In March 2007, two SA-18s were used to shoot down a Belarusian Ilyushin-76 cargo plane shortly after it departed from Mogadishu airport. All eleven crew members were killed.