OTR Interviews

Surface-to-Air Missile Pose Threat to Commercial Airliners

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, August 12, 2003.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: The feds thwart a British arms dealer [looking to sell a shoulder-to-air missile to an FBI agent posing as a Muslim terrorist with ambitions of shooting down an airliner] …

[This is] a major arrest and a massive security breach at one of America's busiest airports. It may raise the question: Should you fly? National security reporter Bill Gertz of The Washington Times joins us. Well, should you fly, Bill?

BILL GERTZ, WASHINGTON TIMES: Well, sure. I think we're going to all have to fly. It's obviously the most practical way of transportation around the world. But what this does show is the proliferation of a particular shoulder-fired missile. It's been a big problem. Russia is leaking these surface-to-air missiles in a major way. They've shown up shooting down helicopters in Chechnya. They attempted to shoot down Israeli jets in Mombassa in Africa. Also, they have been used in Saudi Arabia, as well. So this is a big problem, and it highlights the danger that air travelers are facing down the road as more of these missiles proliferate.

VAN SUSTEREN: There was a great multi-national effort in this sting operation. But from listening to you and others, there are literally hundreds of these shoulder-to-air missiles out there, and they're not that expensive.

GERTZ: Right. This suspect was detected about five months ago in Russia. The FSB security service picked him up as he made a pitch to buy these missiles. He paid $85,000 for this one, had a promise of 50 more of the missiles. And it was in an exchange with the dealer, which, according to officials, has been tape-recorded by the FSB, where there was a discussion of possibly targeting Air Force One or the fact that these missiles were capable of taking down Air Force One. I'm not sure if that's true. Air Force One does have a flare system which can deter shoulder-fired missiles.

VAN SUSTEREN: Which is terrific, but US Air, Delta, American Airlines, Continental, Northwest, and I can keep going through the whole litany, don't have that system on board. Much too expensive to deflect those missiles.

GERTZ: Right. That is one of the solutions that the airline industry and the government are looking at. Is it possible to install some type of flare system or chaff system that would be able to deter [these missiles]? It would be very expensive, but that might be the way to go down the road.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, I remember when we were discussing the war in Afghanistan and the number of missing Russian shoulder-fired missiles, that a lot of them weren't accurate. A lot of old ones weren't accurate. I remember also that the ones that we supplied to the resistance fighters in the 1980s — hundreds are missing. Those are American-designed, I suspect they are more accurate. This one is a new Russian one. Are they accurate?

GERTZ: Yes. This is comparable to the U.S. Stinger missile. It's an infrared-guided missile. That is, it looks for a heat signature. It goes to the target. They are very effective. And again, they're used against helicopters in combat and against war planes, as well…

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Bill.

GERTZ: Thank you.

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