Details on the weapon recovered
Several persons, including a British arms dealer, have been caught smuggling an Igla man-portable surface-to-air missile into the US. The operation apparently involved a giant sting set up by the Russian Federal Security Bureau, which planted a weapon modified so as to be useless on them. (The British Army in Malaya went in for something similar, but preferred to plant things like grenades with instant fuses...) This has been a running fear ever since the Heathrow alerts back in the Spring and the failed attempt on an Israeli charter aircraft in Dar es Salaam. I was recently walking around the areas the police were especially scared about then, Wraysbury and Datchet, and they were right - there is an immense amount of cover out there among the gravel pits and reservoirs, as well as a near-total absence of anyone walking. Round there they prefer to drive their Range Rovers very quickly. Just the place.
"Officials say the British man successfully imported a Russian-made Igla missile into the US and believed he was selling it to an Muslim extremist.
But his buyer was an undercover FBI agent and the arms dealer's voice is heard on tape saying he wanted the missile to be used to shoot down a large passenger plane.
The FBI have denied that the plane in question was Air Force One, the US President's official aircraft. They insist they were aware the missile was being brought into the US at Baltimore docks, shipped from Russia and disguised as medical equipment.
Although no actual terrorists are thought to have been involved in the operation, intelligence officials said it was a terrifying illustration of the vulnerability of Western nations to attack by extremists. Over the last 15 months, there have been three foiled attempts by groups linked to al-Qaeda to shoot down planes carrying Western or Israeli passengers."
But, of course, "no actual terrorists"? As ever the problem with a sting is that you never know if the crime is real or created by the stingers. As Joseph Conrad put it in 1907, "it is a commonplace that spies fabricate their information; but in this sphere of revolutionary and political action....they may be tempted to fabricate the facts as well, which leads in one direction to the evil of emulation and in the other to panic, hasty legislation, and unjustified hate."