Negligence or Malpractice: U.S. Hellfire Missile Ends Up in Cuba

Friday, January 8, 2016
Another "little detail" the Obama Administration failed to disclose to the American people.

If the U.S. knew about Castro having the missing Hellfire missile since June 2014 -- why didn't it make its return a condition for the normalization of relations, which it announced in December 2014?

Moreover, if Castro won't return this missile, the Obama Administration didn't know how it got to Cuba and U.S. intelligence agencies are concerned that the technology is being shared with other rogue actors -- why did it proceed to remove Cuba from state-sponsors of terrorism list in May 2015?

It's beyond negligence. It's policy malpractice.

Let's not forget, as we learned from Cuba's attempt to smuggle 240 tons of weapons -- including ballistic missile technology -- to North Korea in mid-2013, the Castros are more than willing to share such weapons, information and technology with other rogue actors.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Missing U.S. Missile Shows Up in Cuba

Inert Hellfire missile sent to Europe for a training exercise makes mysterious trip, sparking concerns over loss of military technology

An inert U.S. Hellfire missile sent to Europe for training purposes was wrongly shipped from there to Cuba in 2014, said people familiar with the matter, a loss of sensitive military technology that ranks among the worst-known incidents of its kind.

The unintended delivery of the missile to Cuba has confounded investigators and experts who work in a regulatory system designed to prevent precisely such equipment from falling into the wrong hands, said those familiar with the matter.

For more than a year, amid a historic thawing of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, American authorities have tried to get the Cuban government to return the missile, said people familiar with the matter. At the same time, federal investigators have been tracing the paper trail of the wayward Hellfire to determine if its arrival in Cuba was the work of criminals or spies, or the result of a series of blunders, these people said.

Hellfires are air-to-ground missiles, often fired from helicopters. They were first designed as antitank weapons decades ago, but have been modernized to become an important part of the U.S. government’s antiterrorism arsenal, often fired from Predator drones to carry out lethal attacks on targets in countries including Yemen and Pakistan, said people familiar with the technology.

This particular missile didn’t contain explosives, but U.S. officials worry that Cuba could share the sensors and targeting technology inside it with nations like China, North Korea or Russia, these people said. Officials don’t suspect Cuba is likely to try to take apart the missile on its own and try to develop similar weapons technology, these people said. It is unclear whether a U.S. adversary has ever obtained such knowledge of a Hellfire.

U.S. officials said the case of the missing missile, while highly unusual, points to long-standing concerns about the security of international commercial shipping and the difficulty of keeping close tabs on important items.

Around June 2014, Lockheed Martin officials realized the missile was missing, was likely in Cuba, and notified the State Department, said those familiar with the matter. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether the redirection of the missile was a crime.

Several of those familiar with the case said the loss of the Hellfire missile is the worst example they can recall of the kind of missteps that can occur in international shipping of sensitive military technology. While there are instances in which sensitive technology ends up getting lost in transit, it is virtually unheard of for such a shipment to end up in a sanctioned country like Cuba, according to industry experts.

Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, said it is likely some foreign nations would like to reverse-engineer parts of a Hellfire, such as the sensors or targeting technology, to develop countermeasures or to improve their own missile systems.

“Now it’s a proliferation concern—someone else now understands how it works and what may have been cutting edge for us is deconstructed and packaged into what other players sell on the open market—and possibly provided to countries that we wouldn’t sell to,” said Mr. Singer.

The Defense Department’s Joint Attack Munitions Systems project office asked officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency to provide an assessment of the security impacts of the lost munition to determine the risks associated with its loss. An official at DIA declined to comment. But a defense official confirmed that DIA has reviewed the implications of the lost missile.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington didn’t respond to multiple messages seeking comment. Representatives at the embassies of Spain and France didn’t immediately comment, while attempts to contact the German Embassy were unsuccessful.

Several officials and industry experts said what was most baffling about the case was how so many shipping-company workers who should have noticed the labeling on the shipping crate and—at a minimum— asked questions about why it was going somewhere else apparently allowed it to proceed along a circuitous route until it ended up in Cuba.

If someone intentionally sent it astray, that could constitute a violation of the Arms Export Control Act, as well as a possible violation of Cuban sanctions laws. There are more than 25 countries to which U.S. military exports are generally prohibited. Cuba was added to the list in 1984.

The Hellfire missile has been missing during the most sensitive time in U.S.-Cuba relations in more than a generation. In June 2014, when the U.S. first realized the missile was in Cuba, the State Department was engaged in secret negotiations to normalize relations with Cuba, ending a standoff dating back to the 1950s.

That rapprochement culminated in a December 2014 announcement that the two nations would normalize relations, re-establish embassies and exchange prisoners.