Fully Operable Scud B
Missile Snared In Southern
California By Customs
By Bill Gertz
The Washington Times

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.