- U.S. and British authorities are investigating
how a Russian-design Scud missile was imported illegally by a weapons collector
in California, The Washington Times has learned. "This is a full-blown
missile," said John Hensley, a senior agent of the U.S. Customs Service
in Los Angeles. "The only thing missing is the warhead." A Scud
B missile and its mobile transporter-erector launcher --minus the warhead
-- were seized Sept. 2 by customs agents in Port Hueneme, Calif., about
35 miles north of Los Angeles, said officials familiar with the case. The
missile system was licensed for importation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms. But paperwork in the case was falsified, and the missile
system was not "demilitarized" -- rendered inoperable -- as required
by import rules, Mr. Hensley told The Times. British customs officials
are investigating the seller, a small firm outside London, and U.S. investigators
are questioning an arms collector from Portola Valley, Calif., near Palo
Alto, who bought the system, Mr. Hensley said. The missile transfer has
raised fears about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and
missile-delivery systems. It also could be an embarrassment for the Clinton
administration, which is engaged in a major international diplomatic effort
to halt missile exports by Russia and China to the Middle East.
The importation raises questions about U.S. national security controls.
Mr. Hensley said U.S. military experts examined the missile and determined
that it was produced in Czechoslovakia in 1985. The missile was identified
as an SS-1C, which the Pentagon has designated as a Scud B. Transfers of
missiles like the Scud B, with a range of 186 miles, are banned under the
international export agreement known as the Missile Technology Control
Regime. Customs officials said the missile was not identified until it
was driven off the British freighter that delivered it and an inspector
called customs agents to examine it. Such weapons can be imported but must
first be cut up with a blowtorch so they can never be reassembled. The
officials identified the buyer only as a wealthy man who is a U.S. citizen.
He is a legitimate arms collector -- apparently not linked to terrorists
or illicit arms dealers. But the false paperwork has raised questions about
the deal and prompted the U.S. investigation. Mr. Hensley said the buyer
had purchased a Scud missile earlier that had been properly rendered inoperable.
But a photograph of that missile was attached to the illegal system, seized
Sept. 2, in an effort to fool customs officials. After examining the missile,
customs agents called the ATF and were surprised to learn that an ATF license
had been issued for the missile importation. "We thought they were
nuts," said one official close to the case. The missile system is
being stored at the Navy's Pacific Missile Testing Center in nearby Point
Mugu, near Oxnard, where it has been impounded.
John D'Angelo, an ATF agent in Los Angeles, had no official comment on
the case. "Routinely, the ATF and U.S. Customs Service examine items
to determine their suitability for importation under federal regulations,"
he said. "We have not yet completed the inspection of this importation
and therefore can't discuss it." The SS-1 Scud is a liquid-fueled
missile that is among the most widely deployed weapons in the world. It
is in service with more than 16 nations. Iraq's military forces were able
to extend the range of the missile, which was fired extensively during
the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The chassis of the missile's launcher was identified
as a MAZ-543 truck used commonly by the former Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces
for short-range missiles. "The guidance was totally intact and the
engine was ready to go," Mr. Hensley said. "All you needed to
do was strap on a garbage can full of C-4 and you had a weapon." C-4
is military high explosive. Concerning how the missile was handled by the
British firm, Mr. Hensley said, "It is illegal to import this into
the U.K., so the Brits are wondering how this guy got this company to do
this." Investigators suspect the missile may have been bought in Europe
on the black market. "Our concern is not so much that [the buyer]
might have a licensing problem," Mr. Hensley said. "It's just
that in the aftermath of the embassy bombings in Africa and the Oklahoma
City bombing, that this could be a real problem."
The Customs Service is intensifying its efforts to check for illegal imports
of such weapons, he said. Stephen Bryen, a former Pentagon technology-transfer
official, said weapons like the Scud must be fully dismantled before they
can be allowed into the country. "You have to worry anytime somebody
brings a missile into the United States, whatever cover it might be,"
Mr. Bryen said. He noted that terrorists or rogue states could use such
collectors to acquire missiles illegally.