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    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

    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
    Journal reported.

    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”
    of security.

    “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
    to Havana.

    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
    of espionage.

    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.


    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
    licensing cases.”

    The Hellfire case isn’t the only weapons controversy involving Cuba in
    recent years.

    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
    arms-related materiel.”

    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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