Iran Gets Army Gear in Pentagon Sale

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by ZZZzzzzzzz, Jan 16, 2007.

  1. AP: Iran Gets Army Gear in Pentagon Sale
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    Jan 16, 7:57 AM (ET)


    (AP)The U.S. military has sold forbidden equipment at least a half-dozen times to middlemen for countries - including Iran and China - who exploited security flaws in the Defense Department's surplus auctions. The sales include fighter jet parts and missile components.

    In one case, federal investigators said, the contraband made it to Iran, a country President Bush branded part of an "axis of evil."

    In that instance, a Pakistani arms broker convicted of exporting U.S. missile parts to Iran resumed business after his release from prison. He purchased Chinook helicopter engine parts for Iran from a U.S. company that had bought them in a Pentagon surplus sale. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, speaking on condition of anonymity, say those parts made it to Iran.

    The surplus sales can operate like a supermarket for arms dealers.

    "Right Item, Right Time, Right Place, Right Price, Every Time. Best Value Solutions for America's Warfighters," the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service says on its Web site, calling itself "the place to obtain original U.S. Government surplus property."

    Federal investigators are increasingly anxious that Iran is within easy reach of a top priority on its shopping list: parts for the precious fleet of F-14 "Tomcat" fighter jets the United States let Iran buy in the 1970s when it was an ally.

    In one case, convicted middlemen for Iran bought Tomcat parts from the Defense Department's surplus division. Customs agents confiscated them and returned them to the Pentagon, which sold them again - customs evidence tags still attached - to another buyer, a suspected broker for Iran.

    That incident appalled even an expert on weaknesses in Pentagon surplus security controls.

    "That would be evidence of a significant breakdown, in my view, in controls and processes," said Greg Kutz, the Government Accountability Office's head of special investigations. "It shouldn't happen the first time, let alone the second time."

    "The fact that those individuals chose to violate the law and the fact that the customs people caught them really indicates that the process is working," said Baillie, the Defense Logistics Agency's executive director of distribution. "Customs is supposed to check all exports to make sure that all the appropriate certifications and licenses had been granted."

    The Pentagon recently retired its Tomcats and is shipping tens of thousands of spare parts to its surplus office - the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service - where they could be sold in public auctions. Iran is the only other country flying F-14s.

    "It stands to reason Iran will be even more aggressive in seeking F-14 parts," said Stephen Bogni, head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's arms export investigations. Iran can only produce about 15 percent of the parts itself, he said.

    Sensitive military surplus items are supposed to be demilitarized or "de-milled" - rendered useless for military purposes - or, if auctioned, sold only to buyers who promise to obey U.S. arms embargoes, export controls and other laws.

    The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found it alarmingly easy to acquire sensitive surplus. Last year, its agents bought $1.1 million worth - including rocket launchers, body armor and surveillance antennas - by driving onto a base and posing as defense contractors.

    "They helped us load our van," Kutz said. Investigators used a fake identity to access a surplus Web site operated by a Pentagon contractor and bought still more, including a dozen microcircuits used on F-14 fighters.

    The undercover buyers received phone calls from the Defense Department asking why they had no Social Security number or credit history, but they deflected the questions by presenting a phony utility bill and claiming to be an identity theft victim.

    The Pentagon's public surplus sales took in $57 million in fiscal 2005. The agency also moves extra supplies around within the government and gives surplus military gear such as weapons, armored personnel carriers and aircraft to state and local law enforcement.

    Investigators have found the Pentagon's inventory and sales controls rife with errors. They say the sales are closely watched by friends and foes of the United States.

    _Items seized in December 2000 at a Bakersfield, Calif., warehouse that belonged to Multicore, described by U.S. prosecutors as a front company for Iran. Among the weaponry it acquired were fighter jet and missile components, including F-14 parts from Pentagon surplus sales, customs agents said. The surplus purchases were returned after two Multicore officers were sentenced to prison for weapons export violations. London-based Multicore is now out of business, but customs continues to investigate whether U.S. companies sold military equipment to it illegally.

    In 2005, customs agents came upon the same surplus F-14 parts with the evidence labels still attached while investigating a different company suspected of serving as an Iranian front. They seized the items again. They declined to provide details because the investigation is ongoing.

    _Arif Ali Durrani, a Pakistani, was convicted last year in California in the illegal export of weapons components to the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Belgium in 2004 and 2005 and sentenced to just over 12 years in prison. Customs investigators say the items included Chinook helicopter engine parts for Iran that he bought from a U.S. company that acquired them from a Pentagon surplus sale, and that those parts made it to Iran via Malaysia. Durrani is appealing his conviction.

    An accomplice, former Naval intelligence officer George Budenz, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in July to a year in prison. Durrani's prison term is his second; he was convicted in 1987 of illegally exporting U.S. missile parts to Iran.