Pentagon Accidentally Sold Parts for Iranian Fighters
02 August 2007
Investigators from the U.S. Congress say earlier this year the Defense Department sold more than a 1,000 parts for aging fighter jets that are now only used by Iran, in spite of a ban on such sales. But VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon that officials say the sales did not involve high-technology equipment.
The report from the Government Accountability Office says the parts were sold in February, the month after the ban was imposed, due to an error by a Defense Department contractor. The report says the contracting company tried to remove the parts from a Web site it uses to sell surplus military equipment, but the effort failed.
A spokesman for the Defense Department agency that handles such sales, the Defense Reutilization and Marketing System, says the data was not accurately loaded into the computer system. The spokesman, Jack Hooper, also says the material was what he called "general hardware" that could be used in F-14 Tomcat fighters and for a variety of other purposes. He says the items were not specifically designed for the F-14, and did not involve weaponry, flight controls, wing parts or other high-technology items. The report does not say who bought the material or how much it was worth, and Hooper could not provide that information Thursday.
Still, Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the January ban includes anything that can be used on an F-14.
"Any parts that can be identified as being part of an F-14 to include even very simple hardware such as nuts and bolts fell under the suspension," he said.
Iran is the only country that still flies the aging fighter jets, first introduced in the mid-1970s. Reports indicate Iran aggressively seeks spare parts to keep the planes in the air.
The congressional report and the Defense Department say an effort is under way to recover the parts from the buyers, and some material has already been returned, or was not yet shipped when the error was discovered.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman could not speak about any specific parts from the sale, but he said it is very difficult to follow what happens to surplus military equipment once the Pentagon sells it. He says that is why the department imposed the total ban on all F-14 part sales.
"Sometimes people will buy parts for what are seemingly innocent or appropriate use but are then sold a second or a third time in ways in which they were not intended to," added Whitman.
The congressional report says the Defense Department has made "significant progress" in controlling what surplus property it sells, since problems in the system were identified five years ago. But it urges officials to further improve controls to ensure sensitive material is not again sold accidentally in the future.
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