$55 million sought by CIA to buy back missiles

July 23, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Partly in response to growing fears of terrorist attacks on U.S. civilian aircraft, the CIA requested $55 million this month for buying back hundreds of the highly efficient Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that the United States gave to Afghan rebels in the 1980s, according to informed U.S. sources.

The extraordinary sum -- more than five times the last allocation for the covert Stinger buyback program -- was sought by the Clinton administration from contingency funds because of fierce competition for the prized missiles on the international black market, according to knowledgeable sources.

U.S. agents have been finding themselves outbid for the accurate, shoulder-launched rockets that now fetch upward of $100,000 apiece in the black market, officials said.

"Whatever we pay to get them back is a small price, given the almost insoluble threat to civil aviation that Stingers in the hands of terrorists pose," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at the Rand Corp.

Several Western intelligence agencies are also now cooperating in one of the most costly efforts to clean up a messy and potentially disastrous remnant of the Cold War. Stingers are light enough to be fired from a shoulder but are powerful enough to bring down an airliner.

At a cost of at least $30 million, the United States gave roughly 1,000 Stingers to the Afghan mujahedeen in the mid- and late-1980s to combat the Soviet occupation force in Kabul.

The CIA had hoped to get the Stingers back in exchange for humanitarian supplies or postwar reconstruction materials. The offers were all spurned.

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