Missile that turned up in Cuba ignites backlash
Missile that turned up in Cuba ignites backlash
Missile did not contain explosives
Concern: Cuba could share technology with U.S. enemies
Sen. Marco Rubio says Congress should have been informed
MIAMI HERALD STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
A dummy U.S. Hellfire missile was mistakenly shipped from Europe to Cuba
in 2014 as the United States and Cuba were in the midst of secret
negotiations that led to the current rapprochement, The Wall Street
The inert missile did not contain any explosives, the Journal said
Thursday, but there are concerns that Cuba could share the sensor and
targeting technology with potential U.S. adversaries, including North
Korea or Russia.
The Journal report was attributed to anonymous “people familiar with the
matter.” A U.S. official with knowledge of the situation, who wasn’t
authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity,
confirmed its veracity to the Associated Press.
According to the Defense Department, the Hellfire, which is manufactured
by Lockheed Martin, is a laser-guided, air-to-surface missile that
weighs about 100 pounds. It can be deployed from an attack helicopter
like the Apache or an unmanned drone like the Predator.
South Florida congressional representatives demanded answers Friday.
In a joint statement, Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario
Díaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, and New Jersey Democratic Rep. Albio
Sires said they considered the misplaced missile “a very serious breach”
“Congress must provide oversight to determine how the U.S. export
control system failed to prevent this gross violation from occurring,
and if Cuba’s espionage apparatus played a role in this Hellfire
acquisition,” they said.
For more than a year as the relationship between the United States and
Cuba thawed and the two countries reestablished diplomatic relations,
the United States has tried to get the missile back, The Journal reported.
The U.S. official told the AP that Lockheed was authorized to export the
dummy missile for a NATO training exercise. The inert Hellfire left
Orlando International Airport in early 2014 and was sent to Rota, Spain,
for the NATO exercise, according to The Journal.
People familiar with the case told The Journal that after the exercise,
for reasons that are still unclear, the missile began a roundabout trip
through Europe. It was loaded onto a truck in Spain by a freight
forwarder that was supposed to put it on a Madrid-Frankfurt flight, and
in Germany the missile was supposed to be placed on another flight that
would return it to Florida. Instead, the missile was loaded onto a truck
operated by Air France and wound up at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
The Journal said by the time the freight-forwarding firm in Madrid was
able to track down the missile, it was on an Air France flight en route
Now the United States is working with Lockheed to try to get the device
back, and The Journal reported that the United States is also
investigating whether the missile’s disappearance was a deliberate act
Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command in
Doral, appeared surprised to learn that a dummy missile containing
sensitive U.S. technology had ended up in the region where he is
responsible for U.S. military activities. He said he had “no idea” about
its current location.
The U.S. official told AP that the United States doesn’t want any
defense technology to remain in a proscribed country, whether that
country can use it or not. The official said there is greater concern
that Cuba could give more technically advanced countries access to the
“If true, this is another grotesque example of the utter ineptitude,
bordering on criminal negligence, of this administration in its approach
to the conduct of foreign relations,” said Everett E. Briggs, senior
Latin America adviser at the National Security Council during the George
H.W. Bush administration.
Not only would the lapse be an “unacceptable threat to U.S. security,”
but it “would represent the administration’s failure to make the return
of the missile a non-negotiable condition for reestablishing diplomatic
relations with the Castro regime,’ said Briggs, who also served as U.S.
ambassador in Honduras, Panama and Portugal.
The United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations on July
20, 2015 — some13 months after Lockheed Martin officials realized the
dummy was missing and likely in Cuba, according to The Journal. The
Journal said the company notified the U.S. State Department in June 2014.
U.S. SEN. AND REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE MARCO RUBIO OF FLORIDA
SAID IT WAS “DISGRACEFUL” THAT THE ADMINISTRATION DIDN’T TELL CONGRESS
OF THE WAYWARD MISSILE.
In a letter to Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Roberta Jacobson, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said that “the
fact that members of Congress are reading about Cuba’s possession of a
U.S. missile in the newspaper rather than from you or other State
Department officials is astounding and inexcusable.”
He posed a number of questions, including why the return of the missile
wasn’t a condition of Cuba’s removal from the U.S. list of state
sponsors of terrorism and for reestablishment of embassies in Washington
and Havana. Rubio also asked for a list “of the specific occasions on
which you or other U.S. government officials have raised this issue with
the Castro regime.”
He said it was “disgraceful” that “the administration, including you,
have apparently tried to withhold this information from the
congressional debate and public discussion over U.S.-Cuba policy.”
A State Department spokesman declined to comment Friday, saying he was
“restricted under law from commenting on specific defense trade
The Hellfire case isn’t the only weapons controversy involving Cuba in
In July 2013, Panamanian officials found a Soviet-era anti-aircraft
missile system hidden underneath 200,000 sacks of brown sugar in the
hold of a North Korean freighter that had come from Havana and was
preparing to transit the Panama Canal en route to North Korea — a
violation of U.N. sanctions against North Korea.
A United Nations panel of experts said in its incident report that the
hidden cargo “amounted to six trailers associated with surface-to-air
missile systems and 25 shipping containers loaded with two disassembled
MiG-21 aircraft, 15 engines for MiG-21 aircraft, components for
surface-to-air missile systems, ammunition and miscellaneous
The Cuban government said the equipment was being sent to North Korea
for repair and would be returned to Cuba.
But the report said the incident revealed “a comprehensive, planned
strategy to conceal the existence and nature of the cargo” and its
examination of the shipment suggested “that some, if not all, of the
consignment was not expected to be returned to Cuba.’’
The Associated Press and Miami Herald staff writers Mimi Whitefield and
Carol Rosenberg contributed to this report.
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