Tuesday, January 16, 2007

They Say It's Good for Business, From Singapore to Widnes

I don't care how much extra money is generated by the Pentagon's "surplus sales" ($57 million in fiscal 2005), something tells me the costs might exceed the benefits in certain situations [emphasis added throughout]:

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. [...]

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.

Of particular concern is the ability of Iran to refurbish and repair its aging fleet of US fighter jets, acquired during the rule of the Shah. At least, it should be a concern:

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.

As bad as that sounds, the scenario veers farther toward the surreal as revealed in this excerpt:

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.

Did you get that? Let me reiterate the highlights:

Iran is the only country flying F-14s, but their fleet is old and in disrepair. Logically, the Pentagon and other relevant federal agencies are concerned that Iran will be aggressively stepping up its efforts to acquire F-14 parts given its pressing need and the recent heightened tensions between the US and Iran. Yet, despite the fact that our putative adversary Iran is the only logical buyer of F-14 parts (or, at least, the most motivated), the Pentagon will soon be auctioning such parts off to a gaggle of buyers with dubious ethical standards and a shoddy track record for adhering to export controls. Including with respect to Iran.

As overseen by the Ministry of Silly Walks.

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