22. Stinger Missiles Sting

Sources: CHICAGO TRIBUNE Date: 12/6/92, Title: "CIA stung in Afghan missile deal," Author: Uli Schmetzer; SANTA ROSA (CA) PRESS DEMOCRAT NEWS SERVICES, Date: 7/24/93, Title: "U.S. outbid for Stingers"

SSU Censored Researcher: Paul Chambers

SYNOPSIS: Now that the Cold War is over, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is desperately trying to buy back hundreds of the surface-to-air Stinger missiles that it secretly gave Afghan guerrillas only a few years ago.

The Stinger missile, a shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missile, is small enough to fit in the trunk of a car but lethal enough to bring down an airliner. The missiles can travel at 1,200 m.p.h. and while they can shoot down an airliner at an altitude up to 15,000 feet, they are considered deadly accurate against aircraft in the landing or take-off mode.

Originally, the missiles were given to the guerrillas to help defeat the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. They were handed out to Afghanistan's anti-Soviet insurgents in August 1986 in a covert operation run by the CIA. Flown in on special CIA planes, the missiles were distributed among the guerrilla factions by Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence.

Investigative journalist Uli Schmetzer reported in December 1992 that the CIA, Pakistani Intelligence services, and Western military attaches have collaborated in Operation MIAs (Missing-In-Action Stingers) for more than two years trying to "pry the missiles from Afghan hands and stop them from being sold to terrorist and separatist groups."

While U.S. diplomats refused to comment, intelligence sources said the CIA's success rate in repatriating the missiles was not good. When Schmetzer wrote his piece last December, the CIA reportedly was offering as much as $70,000 for a missile with an original cost of $20,000.

In July 1993, the CIA requested $55 million to buy back the Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. This extraordinary sum, more than five times the last allocation for the covert Stinger buyback program, was needed because of the fierce competition for the prized missiles on the international black market,
according to knowledgeable sources.

Officials reported that U.S. agents were being outbid for the missiles that now fetch upward of $100,000 a piece on the black market.

Somewhat ironically, the best barrier against the Stingers falling into the wrong hands seems to be the reported "childlike attachment" local commanders have to them. They are status symbols and military toys of choice; commanders lose prestige when they sell them for money, said Abdul Haq, commander of a once-powerful guerrilla faction in Afghanistan.

Nonetheless, Haq reported that 24 Stingers already had fallen into the hands of Iran from pro-Iranian mujahedeen factions.

One European military attaché reported that every Western intelligence service is trying to help the Americans retrieve the missiles "because all our governments are dead scared one of those things is going to end up in the wrong hands."

COMMENTS: By November 21, 1993, the Stinger scandal had started to receive more coverage as the Associated Press reported that "more than 50,000 of the 4-foot-plus missiles have been produced for the U.S. armed forces and 16 other governments."

While the article noted that the missiles are kept under tight security, it confirmed that "hundreds of other Stingers, shipped by the CIA to anti-Communist rebels in Afghanistan and Angola, are believed to be feeding a multimillion-dollar black market." It noted that the going market for Stingers in the Pakistani arms markets is now more than $200,000, substantially more than the CIA reportedly had been offering.

It also said that the Stingers are now believed to be deployed in at least five of the world's small wars, including Somalia, and may have brought down aircraft in each.

Uli Schmetzer, journalist with the Chicago Tribune and author of the original Stinger source story, was on assignment in China and unavailable to respond to our query.