Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2002 / 4 Teves, 5763

Jerry Nachman

Jerry Nachman
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Consumer Reports

Surface-to-air Missiles: The new threat? | When journalist Paul Caffera talked about the threat of surface-to-air missles almost two weeks ago on my TV show, it seemed like he was just crying "The sky is falling." A few days later, his journalistic instincts proved to be correct.

For years, white-knuckled flyers had a simple fear of flying. Now there's a new legitimate reason to worry: surface-to-air missiles. First came a nearly-unnoticed government warning that we broadcast on my show. Freelance journalist Paul Caffera appeared with us and revealed the government warning that originally received little attention.

Then a couple of days later came the chilling news that two missiles streaked past an Israeli jetliner moments after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya. The plane landed safely in Tel Aviv. Missile casings were found not far from the Mombasa airport. A possible al Qaeda connection is being investigated in the missile attack and in the almost simultaneous suicide car bomb attack on an Israeli-owned resort hotel also in Mombasa. Now the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee say more needs to be done about the missile threat.

"Let's be honest about it. There are thousands of these surface-to-air missiles around the world," said Sen. Richard Shelby, Alabama. "The Stinger missile is the top of the line, but there are a lot of others that are out there. You can buy them and you can transport them. A lot of them are not as accurate as others. But, sooner or later, that's going to be one of the methods for the terrorists to hit."

Nachman admits that he thought there was a little bit of Chicken Little in what Caffera initially had to say.

"Well, I think that a lot of people have told us so for many years," Caffera says. "The reports have been out there for a dozen years telling us this was a likelihood. I just happened to be the last person to say so."

So if the threat was known, why didn't it get any widespread coverage? And why, when the airlines were asked, did they duck?

"I think it's a matter of the fact that they don't know what to tell you," says Caffera. "When we had the aircraft hijacked on September 11, we were in a position where what we could do is increase the screening at the airports. And that could give people a sense of security, a sense of safety, a sense that something had been done. But there's very little, in the short term, that we can do about this threat. So, it doesn't surprise me they are afraid to say anything, because it would probably have an adverse effect on the desire of people to get on aircraft."

For Dan Goure, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank, there will always be new a threat. "I've talked to a number of experts, including former heads of Israeli El Al security. And what they'll all tell you is that we're closing barn doors after the horses are gone, that we're protecting against things that are unlikely to happen again and what you're going to get are the new threats, such as Stingers."

Stingers, are, esentially, primitive weapons. They're essentially a tube with a piece of ordinance in them that track heat or infrared. America distributed them to the Mujahedeen, which were not exactly sophisticated warriors. And they were used against Russian planes in Afghanistan in the '80s.

"I think we should have been worried about this years ago," says Goure. "Now, the weapons we're talking about have very small warheads, so they're unlikely to cause the catastrophic explosion of the airplane in the air. On the other hand, if you hit an engine on a 757 or an Airbus that's coming in or taking off under maximum stress and an engine goes out because it's hit, who knows what the results could be? And if do you it over an urban area-like many airports- the damage could be catastrophic."

JWR contributor Jerry Nachman is vice president and editor-in-chief of MSNBC, and the host of “Nachman,” which airs at 5 p.m. ET, weekdays on MSNBC. A former radio reporter, newspaper Editor-in-Chief, and even Hollywood screenwriter, he is the recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award, an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association and an Emmy Award, plus numerous others. He has served twice as a Pulitzer Prize Juror in the Journalism competition. Comment by clicking here.


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