Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Iran buying U.S. military surplus

Thanks to lax safeguards in the auction system.

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.

Got that? We kept selling parts to a guy who had already been convicted of exporting parts to Iran.

What's really great is that the U.S. is retiring it's F-14 fleet, and as a result putting thousands of F-14 spare parts on the market. Guess which country is the only one in the world to still operate F-14s? Yep: Iran.

One might wonder why we're trying to sell the parts when the only logical interested buyer is banned from having them.

There is a chance that some of this is just poor reporting, revolving around the meaning of "spare parts".

The military notes that an F-14 has 76,000 parts, most of which are basic things like rivets and bolts that aren't sensitive in any way. If those get sold, who cares?

Another 10,000 parts are highly sensitive and will be destroyed.

That leaves 23,000 parts that could be sensitive but still salable. It's that last category, I assume, that is generating much of the controversy.

But the problem isn't just with F-14s, and not just with Iran. You want a rocket launcher? Here's how to get one.

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.

Fabulous.

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