Sen. John Kerry on Thursday called for an investigation into security weaknesses in the Defense Department’s surplus sales that have let buyers for Iran and China acquire aircraft parts and other valuable military gear.
The Massachusetts Democrat sought an inquiry by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after The Associated Press reported that in several instances middlemen for the countries had exploited security flaws to acquire sensitive surplus.
The surplus sales include parts for F-14 “Tomcat” fighter jets, a plane retired last year by the United States and now flown only by Iran. Iran bought the jets in the 1970s before the U.S. government banned most exports, including defense-related sales, to the Mideast country.
“There is no way that Iran should be getting these sensitive military parts, especially with the situation in the Mideast so turbulent,” Kerry said.
Federal investigators say that in at least one instance, gear purchased from Pentagon surplus got to Iran. A Pakistani arms broker bought Chinook helicopter engine parts for Iran from a U.S. company that had bought them in a Pentagon surplus sale, and those parts made it to Iran, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Sensitive surplus is supposed to be rendered useless for military purposes or, if sold, then only to buyers who promise to obey U.S. arms embargoes and other laws.
Defense Department official Fred Baillie said the Pentagon did nothing wrong in selling the surplus and that it was not the agency’s fault the items wound up in the wrong hands.
The Pentagon has worked to tighten surplus sale security following a scathing report by the Government Accountability Office last year that identified numerous weaknesses. Measures include trying harder to properly identify surplus before it is marked to safe to sell. If there is doubt about what an item is, it now is destroyed, whereas before it might have been sold, said Baillie, the Defense Logistics Agency’s executive director of distribution.
Customs and GAO officials worry about security problems with the program, however, and are seeking assurances the Pentagon will not sell surplus parts from the recently retired F-14 fleet.
Thousands of the components already are set for market. Baillie said that more than half of the roughly 76,000 parts for F-14 are general nuts-and-bolts hardware that the Pentagon surplus program can sell to the public with no restrictions.
About 10,000 are Tomcat-specific and will be destroyed, he said. The rest, about 23,000 parts, are valuable for both military and commercial use and are being reviewed to see whether Pentagon surplus can sell them without jeopardizing national security, Baillie said.
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