Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Less than meets the eye?

I've been a tad suspicious of this "shoulder-launched missile smuggler" story since it broke. It's not that I buy into suspicions that it was a manufactured story in order to produce good headlines in the war on terror. No, it's primarily because the implication of the story, that it is easy for terrorists to get these kinds of weapons into the United States, just doesn't hold up. First of all, the launcher was supplied to the dealer at the behest of the U.S. government as part of the sting operation and the government cleared the way for the launcher to be able to get into the United States in the first place. Which raises the question: could the dealer have gotten it into the United States IF Russia and the U.S. weren't working to make it easy for him to do it? Yes, the guy is a bad man who should be locked up. Anyone who would do anything to help terrorists get this kind of weaponry should be put away. Having this guy in custody means there is one less guy out there who will do this (and might just cause others of a similar bent to think twice about it). But is this story an indication of a success in the war on terror? Or is it just an indication that we are good at setting up an asshole who just happens to be a sucker? I'm not the only one who has raised questions about this. Josh Marshal brings up similar questions and ABC News has a report out that questions the significance of the arrest. Here's ABC:
For example, Lakhani had no contacts in Russia to buy the missiles before the sting and had no known criminal record for arms dealing, officials told ABCNEWS. "Here we have a sting operation on some kind of small operator … who's bought one weapon when actually, on the gray and black market, hundreds of such weapons charge hands," said military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer.
Got that? This guy, asshole that he most likely is, was also most likely just a small-time operator. The really big fish are still out there. Which brings up another question: why haven't we managed to shut down this big fish? Are we focusing this much attention on a small-time operator because its easier to make a big splash out of his arrest then it is to actually shut down the big guys?

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