Senators express concerns that missiles could “fall quickly into the wrong hands”
WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are expressing deep concerns with the possible compromise of as many as 20,000 anti-aircraft missiles in Libya.
In a letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta late Thursday, Senators Collins and Shaheen write, “We need to understand the potential number of missing weapons to accurately assess the risk and mitigation steps that must be taken to protect Americans at home and abroad who rely upon air travel. Based on a briefing from Administration officials, it appears that no one in the U.S. government was monitoring this well-known security risk in Libya while we undertook military operations there.”
The U.S. government is taking steps to locate these weapons that were stockpiled by the Gadhafi regime. In their letter, Senators Collins and Shaheen write that securing and disabling these missiles “must be a top priority” before they fall into the hands of terrorists.
Senator Shaheen sent a letter to the White House in April, soon after fighting began in Libya, expressing concern about the large number of unsecured shoulder-fired missiles in that country and encouraging that full efforts be taken to locate and secure them.
Senator Collins is also Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and Senator Shaheen is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The full text of their letter is as follows:
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20301
Dear Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta:
We are alarmed by reports of unsecured and looted stockpiles of Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS) in Libya.
With Libya’s vast arsenal—possibly 20,000 missiles—at risk, the possible compromise of these stockpiles may have eclipsed the gains we have made during the last eight years through the State Department-led interagency task force on MANPADS, which significantly reduced the number of at-risk MANPADS worldwide.
We need to understand the potential number of missing weapons to accurately assess the risk and mitigation steps that must be taken to protect Americans at home and abroad who rely upon air travel. Based on a briefing from Administration officials, it appears that no one in the U.S. government (USG) was monitoring this well-known security risk in Libya while we undertook military operations there. Specifically, we understand that the USG did not know the location of MANPADS storage sites before the major fighting in Libya, and the U.S. has not had constant surveillance of major weapons -- including probable MANPADS -- storage sites since the fall of the Qadhafi regime. In addition, it is our understanding that the USG does not have an accurate estimate of how many MANPADS the Libyan government had before military operations were undertaken in May, or how many missiles remain. Without this basic information, we are concerned that we cannot develop an effective plan to adequately protect the American people at home and abroad from terrorist groups seeking these weapons.
While we are concerned that more was not done to work within NATO and with the National Transitional Council (NTC) prior to the fall of the Qadhafi regime to prevent the current situation, the failure to plan for securing these stockpiles only heightens the need for quick action now. Securing and disabling the missiles remaining in Libya’s stockpiles must be a top priority. we understand you have prioritized the security of MANPADS, but we were surprised to learn that only 25 percent (9 of 36) of the major known weapons storage sites, which may contain MANPADS, have been visited by U.S. quick reaction force teams to date. Time is of the essence to keep these dangerous weapons of choice from terrorists. The close proximity of sources to fighters for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula increases the risk that these weapons will fall quickly into the wrong hands.
We understand that USG resources are available to deploy experts to all 36 of the known storage facilities in Libya, but NTC disorganization and competing priorities are delaying U.S. efforts to secure these stockpiles. Therefore, we urge you to request that the NTC provide immediate access to all suspected storage sites to U.S. experts and contractors within a matter of days, not weeks or months. The NTC also should provide dedicated liaison officers for our teams to account for these dangerous weapons: the NTC leadership should understand that cooperation on this issue will serve as an early indication of what kind of partner the new Libyan government will be for the United States in counterterrorism and security cooperation.
We request that your Departments provide the following additional information:
(1) What is the best USG estimate of the total number of MANPADS in Libya before Operation New Dawn, after the fall of the Qadhafi regime, and currently?
(2) To what degree was surveillance was conducted by the U.S. before Operation New Dawn, during the fighting, and currently as it relates to the 36 known storage sites for MANPADS?
In addition, we request that the relevant Departments provide the USG MANPADS recovery and dismantlement strategy for Libya to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Given the urgency of the situation, please provide the MANPADS strategy and estimates of MANPADS numbers no later than October 20, and the information on surveillance no later than October 27. We recognize that some aspects of your response may be classified; please present as much of the information as possible in an unclassified format.
We appreciate your attention to this request and look forward to hearing from you.
Press Office, (202) 224-5553