Is this more ridiculous — or appalling? We report; you decide.
It turns out that a Hellfire missile — an inert round from the U.S. inventory, meant for a NATO exercise — was sent from Europe to Cuba in 2014, in a series of events that U.S. officials still don’t know whether to call nefarious, or simply hapless.
They’ve figured out where the misdelivered missile went, and when, and how it was transported there. But they don’t know who was involved, in the sense that would explain why it happened. Was it all a colossal, unexplained mistake? Or was there inside skulduggery going on?
Gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling about the state of our national defense posture, doesn’t it?
The Wall Street Journal elaborates on the particulars:
The missile was sent from Orlando International Airport in early 2014 to be used in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization military exercise, said the people familiar with the case. As with other sensitive military gear, the shipping crate was clearly marked as containing material subject to rigorous export controls, and that shipping information would have made clear to anyone handling it that it wasn’t regular cargo, these people said. [Note: this seems to my skeptical, analytical brain like more of a clue than a point of reassurance or mitigation. – J.E.]
The missile was sent by its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Corp., after the company got permission from the State Department, which oversees the sharing of sensitive military technology with allies. …
The people familiar with the case said the missile was sent to Spain and used in the military exercise. But for reasons that are still unclear, after it was packed up, it began a roundabout trip through Europe, was loaded onto a truck and eventually sent to Germany.
The missile was packaged in Rota, Spain, a U.S. official said, where it was put into the truck belonging to another freight-shipping firm, known by officials who track such cargo as a “freight forwarder.” That trucking company released the missile to yet another shipping firm that was supposed to put the missile on a flight originating in Madrid. That flight was headed to Frankfurt, Germany, before it was to be placed on another flight bound for Florida.
At some point, officials loading the first flight realized the missile it expected to be loading onto the aircraft wasn’t among the cargo, the government official said. After tracing the cargo, officials realized that the missile had been loaded onto a truck operated by Air France, which took the missile to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. There, it was loaded onto a “mixed pallet” of cargo and placed on an Air France flight. By the time the freight-forwarding firm in Madrid tracked down the missile, it was on the Air France flight, headed to Havana.
Now, first of all, flying inert missiles around the world as generic commercial freight is a lightbulb-over-the-head “cost-saving” measure, of the kind that makes people feel industrious and forward-leaning in a “resource-constrained” period for the military. These periods roll around pretty regularly, and they always lead to the Pentagon having to decide (however it might violate the Obama administration’s celebrated credo) to do stupid s***.
The smart way to send any U.S. missile body, inert or live combat round, between the U.S. and Europe is to put it in a military-controlled logistics pipeline — something that should always exist, and for just such purposes.
It is actively stupid, by contrast, to assume that everybody wrangling cargo in Europe will solemnly respect markings and shipping information that identify military ordnance as “not regular cargo” — as opposed to getting excited about the possibilities of such cargo when it swims into their ken undefended. This isn’t just an artifact of today’s environment, or who might be working the freight-forwarding business in the warehouses of Europe. There has actually been no time in the history of NATO and military logistics when such a level of open-ended trust was justified.
But we did this silly thing, in any case, and the missile landed in Cuba, where now the Cubans won’t give it back. This detail is reported with a straight face, as if it requires serious examination. We’re even told that our officials have been trying to get Cuba to return the missile.
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.
The fear is reportedly that the Cubans might hand the missile over to someone who’d make short work of dissecting and analyzing it: say, the Russians or Chinese. Why this is still a fear, when we can confidently assume it already happened months ago, might require explaining — except that the evidence is mounting here that stupidity is just the name of this game.
Read the whole thing if you want to be drawn into a narrative that comes off as weirdly disingenuous — even asinine.
There’s an ironic coda to this episode, involving a separate decision by the Obama administration — also in 2014, and probably quite close to this event in time — to delay a delivery of Hellfire missiles requested by Israel during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
Protective Edge started on 7 July 2014 and ran for 50 days; the report of the delayed Hellfire shipment appeared in the U.S. media on 14 August, and seemed to indicate that the delay decision occurred within a day or two after 30 July. The WSJ report on the wayward Hellfire in Cuba doesn’t specify what NATO exercise the round was used in, but a likely candidate is Trident Jaguar 2014, a major two-week event in May 2014 in which a Spanish contingent of NATO’s Rapidly Deployable Corps achieved its certification for that role. Sometime after the conclusion of Trident Jaguar on 16 May is a likely window for when the inert Hellfire’s unplanned excursion through France to Cuba began.
For some reason, in Israel’s case, the exceptional care and attention of Obama’s team worked as intended, and we are given to understand that no Hellfire missiles slipped through its force field of vigilance.
That said, the sense that it’s all a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury (if signifying, ominously, a bit more than nothing), does continue to grow.
* BSU = Blowing [Stuff] Up