U.S. sells forbidden military parts to Iran, China

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.”

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.

“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.

Among cases in which U.S. military technology made its way from surplus auctions to brokers for Iran, China and others:

_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.

_State Metal Industries, a Camden, N.J., company convicted in June of violating export laws over a shipment of AIM-7 Sparrow missile guidance parts it bought from Pentagon surplus in 2003 and sold to an entity partly owned by the Chinese government. The company pleaded guilty to an export violation, was fined $250,000 and placed on probation for three years. Customs and Border Protection inspectors seized the parts — nearly 200 pieces of the guidance system for the Sparrow missile system — while inspecting cargo at a New Jersey port.

“Our mistake was selling it for export,” said William Robertson, State Metal’s attorney. He said the company knew the material was going to China but didn’t know the Chinese government partially owned the buyer.

_In October, Ronald Wiseman, a longtime Pentagon surplus employee in the Middle East, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing surplus military Humvees and selling them to a customer in Saudi Arabia from 1999 to 2002. An accomplice, fellow surplus employee Gayden Woodson, will be sentenced this month.

The Humvees were equipped for combat zones and some weren’t recovered, Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Ingersoll said.

_A California company, All Ports, shipped hundreds of containers of U.S. military technology to China between 1994 and 1999, much of it acquired in Pentagon surplus sales, court documents show. Customs agents discovered the sales in May 1999 when All Ports tried to ship to China components for guided missiles, bombs, the B-1 bomber and underwater mines. The company and its owners were convicted in 2000; an appeals court upheld the conviction in 2002.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., called the cases “a huge breakdown, an absolute, huge breakdown.”

“The military should not sell or give away any sensitive military equipment. If we no longer need it, it needs to be destroyed — totally destroyed,” said Shays, until this month the chairman of a House panel on national security. “The Department of Defense should not be supplying sensitive military equipment to our adversaries, our enemies, terrorists.”

It’s no secret to defense experts that valuable technology can be found amid surplus scrap.

On a visit to a Defense Department surplus site about five years ago, defense consultant Randall Sweeney literally stumbled upon some items that clearly shouldn’t have been up for sale.

“I was walking through a pile of supposedly de-milled electrical items and found a heat-seeking missile warhead intact,” Sweeney said, declining to identify the surplus location for security reasons. “I carried it over and showed them. I said, ‘This shouldn’t be in here.'”

Sweeney, president of Defense and Aerospace International in West Palm Beach, Fla., sees human error as a big problem. Surplus items are numbered, and an error of a single digit can make sensitive technology improperly available and knowledgeable buyers could easily spot a valuable item, he said. “I’m not the only sophisticated eye in the world,” he said.

Baillie said the Pentagon is working to tighten security. Steps include setting up property centers to better identify surplus parts and employing people skilled at spotting sensitive items. If there is uncertainty about whether an item is safe, he said, it is destroyed.

Of the 76,000 parts for the F-14, 60 percent are “general hardware” such as nuts and bolts and can be sold to the public without restriction, Baillie said. About 10,000 are unique to Tomcats and will be destroyed, he said.

An additional 23,000 parts are valuable for military and commercial use and are being studied to see whether it’s safe to sell them, Baillie said.

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.”

Kutz, the government investigator, said surplus F-14 parts shouldn’t be sold. He believes Iran already has Tomcat parts from Pentagon surplus sales: “The key now is, going forward, to shut that down and not let it happen again.”


On the Net:

Pentagon surplus

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Government Accountability Office

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press


  1. Sandy Price

    I saw this growth of the overpowering control by the government back in the early 60s. Many of us understood what Ike meant about his warning that a Military Industrial Nation would kill American freedoms. I’ve worked for years on the concept of a limited government and the end of corporate welfare. We lost it! Americans were not educated enough start their own businesses and eventually could not read well enough to work for the big corporations. It was the self-inflicted suicide of Capitalism. We have no place else to go but Socialism.

    I will make no more waves except to hope that a complete change of government order will be shown to the people and that they own the damn government not the other way around. I’m a different generation that most of you here and my freedoms have been removed one Administration after the other. All Americans believe they need the safety nets offered by the government and are willing to accept their poor education and handouts when they want them. It doesn’t seem to matter that this kind of government is not what our founders had in mind.

    I’m finished with the whole thing. I survived without a dime from the government and worked several jobs to keep from going on welfare of any kind.

    We only have to watch the TV Commercials to see how Americans have given their lives over to the credit institutions. We can’t handle our own decisions and even today we see millions of voters wanting their social lives issued from the federal government. It is too late to start thinking for ourselves. It is too late to feed, shelter and educate our families without federal laws and grants. We have been phucked!

    Capitalism was our only hope at making a decent income and that is now treated as if it was the most horrible form of economics possible.

    Keep your hands out folks and vote for the biggest offer.

  2. Carl Nemo

    Hi Sandy…

    “I must stop pissing people off. Until I learn how to do this, I will keep up with CHB through the blogs”…?!

    Your last statement almost sounds like a self-help affirmation from a meeting of “RRA” Rabble Rousers Anonymous. :))

    Btw in your opening commentary you state that the government has taken over the corporations. It’s really the other way around where the corporations have not only co-opted the U.S. government, but governments of the world in general. The entire planet is moving into a new estate of “corporatism”;i.e.,corporate feudalism. The concept of the nation- state is dead. This is the main thesis of the New World Order crowd; i.e., that the concept of the nation-state must be destroyed with the world divided into enterprise zones among the billionaire corporate oligarchs. America is being turned into a minor plantation within the greater global plantation. It will happen and the American public will be dragged into this future paradigm with them kicking and screaming all the way.

  3. Sandy Price

    Why am I reading that Capitalism is the downfall of America? We have allowed the government to take over our corporations through corporation welfare and allowing the congress to issue where our tax dollars go. Our government has gotten entirely too powerful and should be limited and out of the business of financing our corporations. Leave them alone and let them sink or swim according to their investors, products and customer service. We have no more Capitalism in America. Supply and Demand was sold out with far too much government interference.

    Scrngr. Thank you for your invitation but I have been banned from Reader Rant for being pushy with other ranters. I love this blog and it suits me. I’m behind Doug all the way with his project for “Our America.” I was banned before when I spoke out against Bush with his plans for social issues using the religious right. I warned everyone this would lead to a dictators move on the government. I have a great number of history books under my belt and never would approve of a religious government for America.

    I am a notorious Atheist and therefore must learn to take the hits more gracefully.

    I must stop pissing people off. Until I learn how to do this, I will keep up with CHB through the blogs.

  4. Jeffery Haas

    Dont forget folks, “we fight em there so we don’t have to fight them here…and we sell them the PARTS, too!”

    Ain’t that special?

  5. Scrngr

    Ms. Theimer might, in her capacity as an investigative journalist, find out who approved the sale of the F-14s to Iran in the first place. Where are they now? In the Cabinet, leading the World Bank, or in other high places, I’d guess.


    PS – Ms. Sandy Price, we miss you on Reader Rant. C’mon back sometime. S.

  6. Scrngr

    Nobody’s put it so far in so few words:

    We sold them the entire F14’s not long ago, and now we bitch about selling them parts?

    Does this not strike anyone else as hilariously weird?


  7. Ray

    How many people out there know who was in charge of security at WTC and Dulles airport up to 911? His initials are Marvin Bush.

    Oh, just a co-incidence.

    How many know that Bush sr is on the board of the Carlyle Group ( arms brokers ). How many know that George Bush and John Kerry are cousins? We all know that Cheney has a piece of Halliburton pie and Rumfeldt is a huge stockholder of the company that supplies vaccines to the world.

    And so many sheeple call us conspiracy theory nuts.

    So many dummies who have thier heads in the sand.

    I wonder what the dweebs will have to say while stuffing all that crow down thier fat mouths.


  8. Kent Shaw

    Great links, Carl. I’m already familiar with many of them. Too bad that people like us who read these sources amount to maybe 1 tenth of 1 percent of the population. The rest sneer at us and call us “conspiracy nuts”. Want to hear a great, though implausible conspiracy theory? It starts out with a wealthy, angry Arab living in a cave and ends with 19 airplane hijackers, mostly Saudis, flying planes into two buildings in NYC and the Pentagon. The TWO planes cause the total collapse of THREE skyscrapers. The plane hitting the pentagon totally disintigrates and no parts of the plane or passengers are found. (A couple parts are found on the lawn a day or so later.) A fourth hijacked plane crashes in rural Pennsylvania and no parts of the plane or passengers are found at the crash site but a few parts are found scattered over an area with a radius of eight miles. I could go on but I think you get the picture. What a conspiracy.

  9. Carl Nemo

    The U.S. as well as the people’s of the world are continually being controlled by scenarios that are created for the benefit of the wealthy planetary controllers. There are many incidents that might seem simple historical occurrences, but upon analysis one finds it not so. From the sinking of the Maine in Havana harbor, Cuba in 1898 to our current involvment in the engineered Gulf War II debacle in which we seem to be helplessly engaged at the hands of a leadership that’s truly out of control, and who’s only interest is making obscene amounts of money for the benefit of their constituents in the M.I. complex and the “oil patch”. The wealthy oligarchs that run the planet make and maintain their great wealth by not only arming the U.S. but our enemies as well. Everything is not as it seems and there seems to be no way out of this planetary fix other than the good fortune of an “asteroid incoming”…! I’ll supply a list of links that will provide readers with a connect the dots type of experience concerning events in history that changed the world during the past 100 years. Every event did not happen as reported to the unwashed masses. They were engineered by people with an agenda;i.e., making “big bucks”. America and the world is “harms way” with these mattoids in control…!


    The inferences from the above supplied links represent only the “tip of the iceberg”!