WASHINGTON - The US military has sold forbidden equipment at least a
half-dozen times to middlemen for countries. The sales include fighter jet parts
and missile components.
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 US missile
parts to Iran resumed business after his release from prison. He purchased
Chinook helicopter engine parts for Iran from a US 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 US
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
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
"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
A Defense Department official, Fred Baillie, said his agency followed
"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 US arms embargoes, export controls and other