One Missile Away: The Global Impact of Missing Libyan Manpads


2012-10-02 by Ed Timperlake and Robbin Laird

One of the threatening impacts of the CNN policy approach is that problems not dealt with are forgottened, but not resolved.

Threats not dealt with an eliminated in an earlier moment simply do not go away because your attention span is one day or one crisis.

The attention deficit syndrome affecting modern policy systems is chronic and deadly.

A case in point was the decision to NOT put boots on the ground to secure the KNOWN Libyan manpads stockpile, but to strike without any real consideration of the OBVIOUS consequences of thousands of manpads escaping destruction or control.

While we were celebrating the short lived and narrow “victory” in Libya, later in the year the US Ambassador was annihilated.

For the CNN policy system, there can be no connection or causative relationship. And suspected manpads strikes against unmanned vehicles, rotorcraft and other aircraft in combat zones is yet another isolated event with the CNN straight ahead focus.

And of course 9/11 was about planes going into buildings.

But it was also about virtually shutting down the civilian aircraft industry.

A DHL Airbus air cargo jet with left wing on fire returns to the airport in Baghdad to make a controlled landing shortly after being hit by a MANPADS fired by an Iraqi insurgent. Fortunately, there were no injuries to the crew.
Courtesy of U.S. Department of Homeland Security

We now face the possibility of this happening once again; this time not by planes but by the loose manapads from Libya.

And of course, civilian airliners have already been struck in the past by manpads.

But in a recent trip to Europe, we had a chance to discuss this and other issues with one of the most respected senior European aerospace executives and thinkers.

We were discussing the possible EADS and BAE Systems merger and some of the reasoning he saw behind it.  As one of the architects of the creation of EADS and of the integrated Airbus company, he was well positioned to talk about this subject.

He emphasized a point that is frequently cited, namely, that by so doing, EADS would plus up its defense revenue, and he believed there is a clear need to have a core defense supplement – almost viewed as an annuity – to counterbalance the commercial cycles of the commercial airplane business.

He then popped into the conversation:

Of course, the manpads threat – accelerated by Libyan developments – poses the stark possibility of repeating what we saw after 9/11.  A sharp downturn in the commercial airplane business, and 10 year growth plans was thrown into the wastebasket after the terrorist crashed into the World Trade Center.  A manpads incident could be the functional equivalent; and  could shut down the commercial airplane business with an abrupt thrust.  It would recover but the demand to deal with this threat would then have to be dealt with, rather than ignored.

This concern was widely stated in the 2-3 years after 9/11, but the cost of placing defensive aids onto planes was simply considered prohobittive.

It was a risk the world of commercial aviation was willing to take.

(For a look at the various means for defending against manpads see the following:

And prior to Operation Odyssey Dawn the US Department of State had published a fairly comprehensive analysis of the world wide proliferation of those deadly missiles.

The State web link announces their lofty objectives. (


An interagency task force chaired by the State Department is implementing the United States International Aviation Threat Reduction Plan — a component of the broader National Strategy for Aviation Security– to protect global aviation from MANPADS attacks.”

And they included a thoughtful action plan for anyone to help-

“Americans who are living or traveling overseas who wish to report the illicit possession or location of illicitly-held MANPADS should contact the Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the nearest U.S. Embassy, or the Legal Attaché at the specific U.S. Embassies listed on this website, as soon as possible.”

Unfortunately, this threat was augmented by the loss of thousands of manpads from Libya.

And may well be accelerated by a Syrian collapse as well.

Unfortunately, in the quest to eliminate Gaddafi, Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Susan Rice and NSC staffer Samatha Power did not fully understand, nor think through, the consequences of their precipitous action.

Somehow in the “ready fire aim” decision to go to war both the Intelligence Community (IC) and US Africa Command (AFRICOM) did not go on alert to identify isolate and target a reported significant stockpile of operative MANPADS in Libya.

Consequently, a deadly threat was unleashed on the world.

This simmering crisis appropriately identified by the European aerospace executive can blow up the aviation industry and air travel at anytime.

And events this Fall have only deepened  the problem.

The death of the US Ambassador and of two former SEALS operating in Libya almost certainly involved in a follow up to the Manapds debacle have increased the need to determine what happened and accountability enforced. The President has spoken at the UN of a filmaker and his film as responsible for the atmosphere surrounding the continuing tragedy affecting American personnel in the Middle East.

But who pulled the trigger on the Libyan operation which ignored the manapads threat?

Passing the buck is not only an Inside the Beltway pastime.

But in this case, passing the buck does not work because the crisis has only started and has not run its course,

Taking the right actions after the horse is out of the barn is tougher; but it will not get better if you avoid decisions and shape a global PR campaign.

Full information on what occurred in Libya  leading up to the attack, why two former Navy SEALS were involved and what did a very experienced former military IT/Communication expert transmit during the crisis needs to be examined as part of re-setting policy.

This is not time for secrecy for political purposes.

An American Ambassador was murdered in a part of the world awash with weapons in the hands of militant death loving fanatics.

Everything must see the disinfectant of sunlight applied.

It is now being reported that the US Senate, and House, wants to get to the bottom of all the events in Libya.

This is extremely appropriate especially for the Senate because they have a responsibility to get accountability for the four Americans murdered in Libya.

In addition to Congressional oversight, the Senate has a constitutional responsibility to demand all records and information, written and electronic information on the tragic events leading up to US Ambassador Chris Stevens murder.

The US Senate gave President Obama permission to post Ambassador Stevens to Libya.

The Senate “Advise and Consent’ power is embedded in the American Constitution and is a fundamental principle of American Democracy.

This power transcends partisan party politics and is appropriately protected by Senate custom and tradition since the beginning of the United States.

And it is not simply a question of responsibility and the need to get policy right in Libya and beyond.  For the Senate there is an important personal equation.

Chris Stevens prior to being named and confirmed as Ambassador to Libya had been posted to work with the Senate Committee.

Senator Lugar’s gracious words tell all how respected Chris Stevens was:

Senator Lugar’s Statement on Death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Wednesday, September 12, 2012

“Ambassador Stevens served on my Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff as a State Department detailee in 2006 and 2007. I benefited greatly from his knowledge and insightful counsel on a wide array of Middle East issues.

The series of events that led to his death were senseless and reprehensible.”

The Congress can not let events play out “in the dark.

Politically gridlocking an investigation is not acceptable all facts must be placed in evidence.

The events in Libya on September 11 2012 must be fully known because with MANPADs loose the issue doesn’t stop with the Ambassador’s death.

The loss of life of an Ambassador, and three military veterans, including two extremely courageous SEALs NOT on a Security Detail but on a different mission calls for full disclosure of everything still occurring in Libya.

And before we have loss of significant life aboard civilian airliners, and the crippling of a global industry by loose manpads, it is time to reach beyond the CNN policy making model.

It is time to make hard decisions and tough ones to chase down the killers of the American Ambassador and those planning to use the missing manpads.

Hard yes: necessary even more so.

For a look at what could happen see our piece on the use of these manpads as a Strategic Inflection Point: