The Downing of a Malaysian Airliner over Ukraine: A New Instrument of Terror in Play

By Ed Timperlake and Robbin Laird

It started with a crisis in Ukraine; it then became a Russian invasion of Ukraine and “taking back its legitimate territory” from the Putin-led Russian perspective. It has continued with an intermittently savage conflict on Ukrainian territory with Russia watching up pressure and fostered in part by so-called “Russian separatists” working to reduce further the size of the territory controlled by the government in Kiev.

This is Russian map re-writing at work. One would think after being caught by surprise by the takeover of Crimea by Russia that DNI Clapper would have put significant tasking on all American intelligence assets to keep a sharp focus on that geographic part of world.

It has been widely reported that there was a breakdown in US Intelligence Community on US strategic warning of Russia making a move on Ukraine. Regardless of DNI Clapper’s public statements some very good reporting is coming out about a strategic intelligence failure of the first order. It will take time to see the real facts of the IC’s performance.

Overtime, Congress is fully capable of seeing that if NSA can read the private e-mails of the Presidents of Brazil and Germany what did they do in the case of Russian and Ukraine leaders?

This should be a very high priority work in progress to bring disclosure to the American people; after all they paid for all this. With the revelations of the overzealous and highly inappropriate attack on world leaders by NSA, and early strategic miscalculations about Russian intentions a continuing bi-partisan serious effort by Congress to address “all things NSA” is important.

With a swift destruction of a Malaysian airliner by the use of a sophisticated surface to air missiles shot from Ukrainian territory, a new instrument of terror in the hands of those who wish to use it has been clearly demonstrated. And in the world of terrorists, imitation of success is a demonstrated way forward.

Putting the entire civil aviation industry at its feet is a distinct possibility. When terrorists slammed into the World Trade Center and stuck the Pentagon, the effect on the civil aviation industry was immediate. With ground missiles in the hands of terrorists the same dynamic can easily be unleashed.

Unfortunately, this might not be a one off event, even though the specific context is clearly unique. For example, the loss of thousands of manpads from the Odyssey Dawn intervention has been a lingering threat overhanging global aviation or evident in threats directly against the state of Israel. By conducting air strikes against Libya in March 2011, the stockpiles of manpads were not destroyed. The decision to NOT put boots on the ground to secure the KNOWN Libyan manpads stockpile, but to strike without any real consideration of the OBVIOUS consequences of thousands of manpads escaping destruction or control.

In the United States, the Obama Administration and its Department of Homeland Security have placed the counter-Manpads issue on a very back burner.  Most of the activities of the last Administration to deal with manpads as a long-term issue have been set aside.

One or simultaneous manpad attacks against civil airliners are possible.  The proliferation from Libya to Egypt and Lebanon has already been reported.  If a group associated with the former Libyan regime, based in Lebanon or Egypt sought to bring further focus on the crisis in Libya, attacking European airliners coming into Egypt would be plausible. How would domestic opinion in Europe in an election year view the wisdom of Libyan operations in the presence of the demonstrated impact of manpads proliferation?

The initial reaction to such a manpad attack would clearly be to focus on the source of the attack.  Intelligence sharing would be crucial to determine who and where the source of the threat lies.  And there should be an immediate concern with copycat activities of other groups who might see an advantage from disrupting specific countries and to try to isolate them by using pressure to shut down airline based travel and commerce.

Within countries like Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and ISIS, there are distinct advantages by outsider groups to use such tactics to shape the political process. In the wake of such an attack, Europe and the United States and Asia would go back to planning underway when the Bush Administration was in power.  The need to introduce defensive measures on airliners must be debated.

The threat of manpads now seen in terms of its more sophisticated brother has become a reality chilling the global aviation industry and providing a new chapter in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis

Which terrorists – whether state-sponsored, state-supplied or even worse able to gain access to lethal weapons and training to pop a civil airliner – remains to be determined, and that is an unacceptable strategic intelligence failure.

Threats not dealt with and eliminated in an earlier moment simply do not go away because your attention span is one day or one crisis.

The attention deficit syndrome affecting modern policy systems is chronic and deadly.

This article was first published on Family Security Matters.





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