You know how it goes: You’re headed to Spain for a little springtime outdoorsiness, you ship some bulky luggage ahead so you don’t have to carry it — and next thing you know, your sweaters have fallen into the hands of a hostile foreign government. In mid-2014, this happened to the Department of Defense, when a crate sent off to Spain ended up, in a roundabout way, shipped to Havana, and the missing crate contained not extra sneakers but a Hellfire missile. It’s still in Cuba, and U.S. officials are still trying to get it back.
Fortunately, this particular missile was inert, without explosives inside, and was sent to Spain for a training exercise. But, according to The Wall Street Journal, the mistake did reveal significant (but unspecified) missile technology to the Cuban government, and “people familiar with the matter” say it’s a significant slip: The Hellfire is one of the U.S. military’s most advanced missiles, developed decades ago but modernized as part of the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign.
Investigators are now trying to figure out whether the missile was redirected through a series of mistakes or a deliberate espionage act. It had been sent by Lockheed Martin from Orlando, Florida, to Rota, Spain, where the exercise was to take place, and then on to Frankfurt, whereupon it was supposed to come back to Florida. Instead, it ended up on a truck to Paris, then on an Air France flight to Cuba. As the Journal notes, the crate bore clear indications that it contained sensitive material and wasn’t regular cargo, which has left U.S. investigators mystified: Did nobody read the label?
Havana and Washington began reestablishing diplomatic ties last July, but Cuba remains on a list of 25 sanctioned countries to which the U.S. does not ship military equipment. Although mis-shipments happen regularly, there has never before been a case of a missile ending up in a sanctioned country. Continued negotiations with the Cuban government have failed to get it back.