The Blog

The Pentagon Garage Sale

9:48 AM, Aug 2, 2007 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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The ability of Iranian agents to walk out the front door of U.S. Government boneyards and used equipment depots with spare parts for the F-14 in hand has created a spate of negative publicity for the DoD's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA). A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today reveals that the Pentagon agency could justifiably be charged with suffering from a severe learning disability.

f14parts.jpgSpare parts for the F-14, on display at the 2006 Iran Air Show.
Photo by Reuben F. Johnson.

The GAO's report states that in February 2007 over 1,400 parts unique to the U.S. Navy's F-14 Tomcat were sold to Iran. These sales occurred despite a blanket ban on all F-14 spares sales that had been enacted by the DoD a month before to prevent just these sort of acquisitions by the Iranian armed forces.

After the January decision, the department's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) had been ordered to update its security procedures so that any "F-14 use only" spares would be deleted from the list of items posted for sale by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service's website. DRMS is charged with the re-sale of spare parts from retired or cannibalized weapon systems and is essentially the sales arm of DLA.

U.S. Congressional investigators working for the GAO discovered that these F-14 parts sold off in February slipped through the cracks because DRMS failed to update the agency's computer-based specific automated control list. That list is the filtering mechanism for keeping those components off of the agency's website and failed to flag the parts acquired by Iran as F-14 critical items.

In the 1970s, Iran became the only nation ever to receive the F-14 as an export client of the United States and has been struggling to keep them aloft for almost three decades. Since the 1979 embargo that the United States imposed on Teheran after the Islamic Revolution, all sales of spares for the Iranian F-14s have been banned.

In order to circumvent the ban Iranian procurement agents operating out of front companies and using a network of middleman have managed to keep getting their hands on the parts they need. Other spares have either been reverse-engineered or the original production drawings acquired by Teheran so that Iran's aerospace industry could manufacture their own F-14 components. Cooperation between Iran's defense establishment and the Chinese intelligence services has been particularly helpful on both accounts.

Although Iranian and Chinese agents acquired a full range of spare parts--including not just the F-14, but also the aircraft's Hughes AIM-54 Phoenix missile and Boeing CH-47 helicopter--the GAO's report is chiefly concerned with the sale of F-14 components.

Greg Kutz runs the GAO's special investigations division. In the report he observes that "one country with operational F-14s, Iran, is known to be seeking these parts. If such parts were publicly available, it could jeopardize national security."

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) was interviewed by the Associated Press upon the release of this report and stated that it proves that "the Pentagon has bumbled to the point where they can't make the distinction" between those items that can be used by Iran and other hostile nations and spare parts that are of no particular strategic value. He added, "the Pentagon's system is still riddled with holes."