The threat of shoulder-mounted ground-to-air missiles became much more precient with the recent sting operation of a major British arms smuggler.
Hemant Lakhani, 68, described by one U.S. prosecutor as a “significant international arms dealer,” was the main target of a complex, 18-month sting by U.S., British and Russian law enforcement authorities using undercover officers, secret videotapes and a dummy missile to fool Lakhani into thinking he was dealing with real terrorists, officials said.
Although Lakhani is not alleged to have direct ties to known terrorists, his arrest on Tuesday has captured the attention of lawmakers concerned about the use of missiles against airplanes and comes a time of peak summer travel. British Airways, in response to a different plot uncovered in Saudi Arabia, announced today that it was suspending flights to Riyadh due to concerns about the risk of a terrorist attack.
Already the DHS and the NTSB are working on plans to install anti-missile countermeasures in civilian aircraft. However, countermeasures offer a sense of security that is largely illusory. As a recent security breach near JFK International shows, a terrorist can easily position himself at the end of a runway where they could fire a SAM at an aircraft and have it impact before a countermeasure system could react.
Like all issues of homeland security, the best defense is a strong offense. This sting operation is a good example of what a multinational effort against terrorism should be. The British and Russian governments participated in making this sting work, and their efforts (including a dummy SA-18 missile) help apprehend this potential terrorist supplier.
The best way to prevent missile attacks is to increase security around airports, as well as being more proactive in located and removing sources of arms for terrorists. Efforts like this one are success stories in the war on terror, and as long as potential terrorist suppliers have a reason to believe they could be next it will help to put a dent in the worldwide arms trade.