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Jill Dougherty: Missiles easy to buy, smuggle

CNN's Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty
CNN's Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russian authorities Wednesday are praising a Russian-U.S. operation that resulted in the arrests of three in an alleged attempt to smuggle a missile into the United States.

The FBI arrested the suspects Tuesday in a federal sting at the port in Newark, New Jersey. During the yearlong undercover operation, U.S. agents, aided by Russian officials, posed as Muslim extremists trying to buy a shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile, U.S. government sources said.

These missiles can be used with relative ease to attack commercial airliners, security officials believe.

CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty filed the following report on Russian aspects of the sting:

DOUGHERTY: The FSB, which is the Federal Security Service -- it used to be called the KGB -- is praising the operation. They said this was a new stage in cooperation between the United States and Russia and other Western security services. They said that it's the first time since the Cold War that they have cooperated on this type of operation.

The possibility of arms dealers selling such weapons to terrorists is a concern, obviously, to the United States. But it's a concern, too, of Russia -- because you have to remember, in the Russian breakaway Republic of Chechnya, this specific type of missile, and others similar to it, have been used to shoot down Russian military helicopters.

As we understand the story, a realistic mock-up of a missile -- perhaps one that had been used for training -- was provided by the Russians with the knowledge of U.S. authorities. The weapon was not able to be fired. It was transported to the United States and found in New Jersey.

I've been talking with experts here who have pointed out that there are thousands of these weapons in existence. Many were manufactured during the days of the Soviet Union, and they remain in the arsenals of the former Soviet member states, the countries that became independent. So, many of them are in those places, sometimes with very little control.

And then even here in Russia, in the military, you can find people who want to make a lot of money -- perhaps soldiers desperate for money -- who are willing to sell things like this.

It's virtually impossible to know whether any working weapons such as this one have successfully been smuggled into the United States because these things are very small. They're shoulder fired. They're smaller than a bazooka. They fit on the shoulder and they're very light, 11 kilograms, about 30 to 40 pounds at the very most. And they're very effective. So, they could be smuggled quite easily and there are hundreds of thousands all over the world.

In addition, the missiles are not that expensive. About $100,000 is the reported going rate to buy these things.

The Russians do sell the missile officially to other countries, but that is through a system under more safety controls. They have certain controls on those systems when they sell them officially to other countries. The real worry is over the missiles that are stored in these military depots.

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