In early 2014, an inert Hellfire missile was shipped to Europe for a NATO exercise. It was scheduled to return to the United States sometime before June of that year, but it never did. Instead, for whatever reasons, it surfaced in Cuba, and if anyone in the United States government knows, they sure aren't saying why. This is, as the Delvin Barrett and Gordon Lubold explain over at the Wall Street Journal, "a loss of sensitive military technology that ranks among the worst-known incidents of its kind."
The real danger here isn't that Cuba might build its own fleet of Hellfire missiles to aim at us. The issue is where the knowledge they gain could end up. There's quite a few people who would love to find out how to make their own of these missiles, and this sort of screw up is exactly how they get their hands on this information. From Barrett and Lubold:
This particular missile didn’t contain explosives, but U.S. officials worry that Cuba could share the sensors and targeting technology inside it with nations like China, North Korea or Russia, these people said. Officials don’t suspect Cuba is likely to try to take apart the missile on its own and try to develop similar weapons technology, these people said. It is unclear whether a U.S. adversary has ever obtained such knowledge of a Hellfire.
And later in the article, they explain just how singular and devastating an occurrence like this is:
Several of those familiar with the case said the loss of the Hellfire missile is the worst example they can recall of the kind of missteps that can occur in international shipping of sensitive military technology. While there are instances in which sensitive technology ends up getting lost in transit, it is virtually unheard of for such a shipment to end up in a sanctioned country like Cuba, according to industry experts.
Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, said it is likely some foreign nations would like to reverse-engineer parts of a Hellfire, such as the sensors or targeting technology, to develop countermeasures or to improve their own missile systems.
“Now it’s a proliferation concern—someone else now understands how it works and what may have been cutting edge for us is deconstructed and packaged into what other players sell on the open market—and possibly provided to countries that we wouldn’t sell to,” said Mr. Singer.
It's like they say: places like China, North Korea, and Russia might actually know how to build Hellfire missiles already because of espionage they've already done. However, a wayward missile that ends up in Cuba is how these countries learn these secrets, and if they already have the knowledge, then it allows them to compare what they have against the real thing. Given Cuba's friendliness with nations hostile to ours, we have to believe that information has already made its way outside of the country, even after the Obama-initiated thaw in our relations with the island country.
And that, really, might be the most galling thing about this story. As I've said before, I'm in favor of some sort of thawing between our countries, but Obama has gone about this in the worst way possible. He hasn't made the release of political prisoners or a strengthening of human and civil rights in the country a pre-condition for any normalization of relations, and now, we know that the thaw continues apace even though Cuba doesn't seem to be willing to give up the missile.
All of these things should have been non-negotiable for any deal with the country that ends the American embargo. It was Cuba, not the United States, that truly needed this deal, However, in his desire to get some sort of achievement for his record while weakening the United States abroad, he has not let the fact that Cuba fraudulently owns one of our most useful weapons get in the way of his negotiations.
It's also ironic to juxtapose this failure against the President's current push for gun control. He is pushing all of these bogus measure to purportedly keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals,* yet he cannot keep Hellfire missiles from ending up in the hands of one of our historic adversaries. Even worse, he appears to be doing nothing publicly to rectify the situation.
There are a few takeaways from this. The first is obvious: it's entirely probable that Cuba and several regimes with vested interests in weakening us now have their hands on all the information they will need on one of our military's major weapons. The second is that Barack Obama is seriously disinterested in getting it back. That the thaw has evidently not been held up by this is enough of an indicator of this. Finally, it's a lesson that, even in the places where it has a Constitutionally sanctioned role like national defense, our government makes mistakes, and in this case, it is a particularly costly one. It failed to secure safe passage of one of our weapons to and from countries that are allied with us, and its lack of vigilance could be paid in American lives sometime down the road.
*Of course, his plan isn't really about that. It's about controlling people and taking away their Second Amendment-guaranteed rights, but we've all heard the rhetoric used.