Pentagon Selling F-14 Parts to Iran
The Defense Department’s military surplus sales system is so incompetent that it is selling F-14 parts to Iran, reports AP’s Sharon Theimer.
Fighter jet parts and other sensitive U.S. military gear seized from front companies for Iran and brokers for China have been traced in criminal cases to a surprising source: the Pentagon.
In one case, federal investigators said, contraband purchased in Defense Department surplus auctions was delivered to Iran, a country President Bush has 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 say those parts did make it to Iran.
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. Yet the surplus sales can operate like a supermarket for arms dealers.
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 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.”
A Defense Department official, Fred Baillie, said his agency followed procedures. “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.
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.
Asked why the Pentagon would sell any F-14 parts, given their value to Iran, Baillie said: “Our first priority truly is national security, and we take that very seriously. However, we have to balance that with our other requirement to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”
In the context of a $439.3 billion defense budget, grossing $57 million in sales is less than a rounding error. When one subtracts the cost of running the program and monitoring it, it becomes quite trivial. And my guess is that the sale of items that would be of potential security concern–like supplying a country with which we might well soon be at war with fighter jet parts–amounts to an infinitesimal part of that.
So, why in the hell would we even consider putting them up for auction? Indeed, who else would be willing to pay serious money for parts for an airplane than is no longer in service anywhere else on the planet?