National Archives: How Gaddafi plot to send arms to Argentina was uncovered

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A SECRET plot by Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to supply arms to the Argentinian junta in the midst of the Falklands War was dramatically uncovered by British agents, according to the files.

An alert British air attache discovered the Argentines were using the airport at Recife in Brazil as a staging post for shipping weapons from Libya into neighbouring Argentina. He had a well-placed source at the airport who was able to board one of the Aerolineas Argentinas Boeing 707 flights and saw for himself a series of six long wooden boxes, apparently packed with missiles.

On 31 May, 1982, George Harding, the British ambassador to Brasilia, cabled the Foreign Office: “Air attache who came within five yards of the aircraft last night reports crew was very nervous, with armed security guards in evidence. Source is only person allowed on board aircraft which reflects both his privileged position and vulnerability if we do not guard info with great care.”

The attache later described how, under cover of darkness, he saw the Argentine air crew.

The Foreign Office discounted suggestions the boxes contained Exocet missiles that had wreaked havoc on the British Task Force, but it was anxious to stop the flow of weapons.