Alright, I’m a little confused. Articles like this one at MSNBC say that US agents “foiled an international plot” to smuggle a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile into the United States for downing a commercial airliner. But when you read into the article you see that there really wasn’t a ‘plot’ at all. This was really a sting operation. And as in most sting operations, the ‘plot’ was really something cooked up by law enforcement to snare a malefactor.
What seems to have happened is that Russian intelligence got wind of the fact that a small time arms dealer might be interested in selling these rocket launchers to terrorists. The seller’s motives weren’t ideological but pecuniary. In other words, the sellers weren’t terrorists, just scoundrels. So in cooperation with Russian and British intelligence, the FBI provided this guy with a potential Islamist terrorist buyer, actually an undercover agent. And they picked him up when the deal was sealed.
Now this is an unquestionably good thing for at least two reasons. First, it’s a good thing to have behind bars any miscreant willing to make money by selling terrorists the equipment to bring down a commercial airliner. (These guys are arguably more evil than the terrorists themselves. The terrorists at least think they’re pursuing some justifiable, even noble, end. These rogues couldn’t care less so long as they can make a buck.) Second, and more to the point, you probably can’t deter terrorists who are willing to kill themselves anyway. But you probably can deter some people with financial motives from supplying the terrorists with the weapons. And this probably goes some way toward that end.
But still, there was no plot. And the point is more than just semantic. Look at this sentence a few grafs into the MSNBC report: “It was not immediately clear whether the plot was connected to al-Qaida or some other terrorist network.”
All the horrors of terrorism aside, that line really brought a smile to my face. There was no plot. So there really wasn’t much of a way al Qaida could have been involved, right?
The reporters who covered the story for the Times seemed to have a better handle on this. This line comes at the end of the third graf of their story: “No real terrorists were ever connected to the plot.”
On the other hand, the Times piece also contains this line: “Intelligence agencies say Al Qaeda already has dozens of missiles, many of them American-made Stingers left over from the war in Afghanistan in the 1980’s when the United States supplied them to Afghan guerrillas seeking to oust Soviet troops from their country. Hundreds of other surface-to-air missiles are reported to be circulating on the black market.”