U.S. Arms Deals Elude Required Scrutiny

Lax oversight in the rush of exports since 9/11 has raised the
specter of weapons landing in the hands of America’s enemies.

Washington – The United States is failing to safeguard much of the
highly sought weaponry it sends abroad – from assault rifles to
sophisticated combat technology, a review by The Denver Post

Lax oversight of weapons exports opens the door for adversaries to
get their hands on lethal missiles, assault guns and components for
larger weapons systems, sources say.

Homeland Security agents recently have uncovered plots to divert
night-vision lenses to Iran, fighter-jet parts to China, grenade
launchers to Colombian guerrillas, nuclear triggers to Pakistan,
and more.

And despite internal warnings, government-sanctioned sales worth
more than $10 billion a year continue spreading more weapons

Congressional leaders responding to The Post’s review are promising
legislation. Among the problems that caught their attention:

Tens of thousands of arms deals aren’t fully reviewed, nor are
weapons inspected abroad as required under the U.S. Arms Control
Export Act to prevent diversion or misuse.

When government officials do review arms deals, they find
increasing problems – including diversions to at least one criminal
and several hostile nations. Nearly one in five arms deals checked
last year – 76 out of 413 – had such problems.

Homeland Security agents investigating illegal dealing say
sophisticated weaponry probably already has reached adversaries.
Total arrests for illegal arms dealing doubled from 62 in 2002 to
125 last year. Customs agents last year made 665 seizures of arms
worth $106 million.

The problems grow from a core dilemma. On one hand, the United
States long has relied on arms exports to support private defense
contractors and to get allies to support U.S. foreign policy goals.
On the other, uncontrolled weapons mean a more dangerous world at a
time when terrorist activity is increasing.

“At a time when many consider the greatest threat to our national
security to be terrorists getting their hands on weapons of mass
destruction, I am extremely concerned that the U.S. government is
not doing enough to make sure that we ourselves are not the source
of any weapons that may be used against us either domestically or
against our citizens, soldiers or allies abroad,” said Sen. Dianne
Feinstein, D-Calif., ranking member of the subcommittee on
terrorism and homeland security and member of the Select Committee
on Intelligence.

Feinstein will work on legislation that will “close some of the
loopholes that allow American technology and products to get into
the wrong hands,” she said.

“Simply put, the way business is done now, we have no way of
knowing if much of this technology – including advanced computers,
telecommunications and information systems, lasers, toxins, and
even certain nuclear material and technology, and the like – has
been diverted or is being misused,” Feinstein said.

Defense, Commerce and State department officials responsible for
regulating what goes where acknowledged deficiencies.

Bush administration foreign policy has created pressure to move
weapons quickly to allies, overwhelming controls, Air Force Lt.
Gen. Tome Walters, head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency,
said in an interview before his retirement in July. The agency is
charged with facilitating sales to foreign governments as well as
making sure weapons aren’t diverted or misused.

“A big problem” is the lack of inspectors to keep track of
weapons, Walters said. “And that’s the challenge … the manpower. …
Our system is not designed to do this.”

Diversions exposed by limited reviews raise the possibility of more
diversions not detected.

“I am not comfortable at all,” said Greg Suchan, deputy assistant
secretary of state for defense trade controls.

Even some defense industry leaders – traditional advocates for
relaxing controls – now favor a safer approach.

“A lot of the health and strength of the U.S economy is based on
exports, and it is going to be for some time. But we’ve got to find
a way to manage those exports in a fairly uncertain world,” said
Bob Bauerlein, a former Air Force undersecretary who now serves as
Boeing’s vice president for international operations.

U.S. arms in high demand

Senior Bush administration officials defended the status quo. U.S.
small arms “have not been the weapons that end up in the hands of
child soldiers,” said Lincoln Bloomfield, assistant secretary of
state for political-military affairs. And accelerated sales since
Sept. 11, 2001, will help in the war on terrorism, he said. “Most
of the major arms exports the U.S. does are to armed forces who are
going to do things we want them to do.”

Today, more and more countries – from booming East Asia to the
volatile Middle East – are seeking advanced items for their

And the United States is by far the world’s leading arms supplier,
with annual industry sales topping $300 million and government
sales topping $13 billion last year – a figure expected to reach
$13.8 billion this year, government data show.

In Colorado, some 300 companies are registered to export military
technology – mostly dual-use items that have commercial as well as
military uses. The State Department lists 4,000 companies
nationwide. Names are kept secret.

All deals are supposed to be screened – with congressional
oversight to make sure Defense, Commerce and State department
officials do their jobs. But government documents and interviews
with senior officials, arms control experts, industry lobbyists,
and consultants reveal a systemic failure to control weapons
exports as required by law.

Eye on portable missiles

Consider the case of Stinger shoulder-launched missiles – which the
United States supplies to at least 17 countries, including Egypt,
Israel, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Experts agree that if any U.S.
weapon must be controlled, this is it.

One man can carry a 40- pound, heat-seeking Stinger and, with a bit
of training, shoot down a jumbo jet up to 3 miles away as high as
15,000 feet. In the past 20 years, shoulder-

launched missiles have hit at least 40 civilian planes around the
world, causing crashes and deaths, security analysts estimate. In
November 2002, terrorists firing two Russian-

made shoulder-launched missiles almost hit a Boeing 757 airliner
chartered to evacuate Israeli tourists from Kenya.

Thousands are beyond U.S. government control, according to a study
released in May by the Government Accountability Office, the
investigative arm of Congress.

The Defense Department office responsible “does not know how many
Stingers have been sold overseas,” it said. “Records on the
number and destination of Stingers sold overseas are incomplete,
unreliable and largely in hard-copy form.”

The study followed an August 2000 GAO study that identified similar
problems – which defense officials had promised to fix.

Stinger missiles still move out. A Defense Department spokesman,
who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Army has sent out 237
this year and is in the process of sending 249 more. He declined to
say where.

Overall, State and Defense department regulators last year approved
more than 49,500 deals involving all types of weapons without full
review – let alone monitoring and inspection abroad, documents
show. Arms deals are screened by staffers who process electronic
applications but generally lack time and expertise to conduct
detailed investigations of buyers and sellers. Even in cases where
an application is flagged for closer scrutiny, the most detailed
reviews seldom involve inspections.

Still more deals, involving dual-use technology, were approved
without full review at the Commerce Department. A GAO study
released in March found Commerce officials conducted inspection
visits for only 1 percent of 22,490 sales of missile-related
technology they approved between 1998 and 2002.

The GAO also addressed dual-use technology sent to
government-designated “countries of concern” such as China, India
and Russia that are supposed to receive extra scrutiny. Of 26,340
approved dual-use sales during that period, 7,680 involved
countries of concern. Commerce officials reviewed 428, or 5.6
percent, of those, according to another GAO study. It concluded
that the government “cannot ensure that dual-use items exported to
countries of concern are not misused or diverted.”

Congressional leaders are considering action to deal with “lagging
oversight,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., a member of the Senate
Armed Services Committee.

“It seems incongruous to say one of the primary purposes of the
war on terrorism is to make sure weapons of mass destruction don’t
get into the hands of evildoers, and then not to enforce our own
safeguards on weapons sales,” Nelson said.

Probes uncover trouble

When the government does scrutinize arms deals, it finds trouble.

Last year, State Department officials charged with overseeing
private-company deals selected 413 for more careful review, though
still not inspections to verify where weapons are and how they are
used.These targeted reviews found irregularities with 76, or 18.4
percent, of those deals. That’s the highest percentage ever, up
from 11 percent, or 50, of the deals reviewed in 2002, State
Department documents said.

The 413 reviews interrupted a plan to move firearms to a criminal
in Central America, sales of helicopter parts to a hostile country,
and misuse of electronics and communications equipment sent to
Asia, records show. Details were omitted.

The findings indicate more weapons may have slipped through in
deals not reviewed. At a recent industry conference in Colorado
Springs, Suchan, the State Department’s chief regulator, appealed
to defense companies for help. He urged senior managers to make
sure their companies police themselves and voluntarily disclose

State Department supervisors said 32 inspectors – including
contract employees – must process applications for some 50,000
commercial arms deals each year.

At the Defense Department, officials couldn’t say how many
inspections they may have conducted or what they found. Instead,
Walters, the chief overseer, described how after Sept. 11 he faced
pressure to speed up sales.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “was frequently getting phone
calls from the king of Jordan, from folks who were in countries
that were friends of ours that were close by Afghanistan, close by
Iraq. We needed their help, and they needed things,” Walters said.
“The spotlight was really turned on us to work faster and to
provide things, to help Jordan if Jordan needed equipment, to help

Weapons on the loose

Now evidence is mounting that weapons likely are reaching
adversaries including terrorists – via legal and illegal channels.

In Iraq, customs agents picking through stockpiles recently found
much U.S.-origin weaponry and dual-use technology – evidence for
“at least 40 cases involving U.S. companies or people that we
suspect of exporting illegally to Iraq,” Homeland Security
spokesman Dean Boyd said.

And across the world “there is all sorts of material out there … a
lot of things we don’t have any control over,” Boyd said.

Agents last year opened nearly 3,000 new criminal investigations of
suspected illegal arms deals.

In June, a Jordanian man accused of trying to sell fighter-

jet parts illegally to China pleaded guilty in Los Angeles. In May,
a federal grand jury in Philadelphia indicted a former television
journalist from Houston accused of illegally selling night-vision
lenses to Iran.

In April, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested a
Florida businessman on charges of attempting to purchase more than
6,000 machine guns, grenades, grenade launchers and pistols,
weapons worth nearly $4 million, and send them to the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia – a group the government labels as

In January in Denver, immigration agents arrested a South African
man on charges he illegally exported nuclear trigger devices from a
company in Massachusetts, via South Africa and the United Arab
Emirates, to Pakistan.

Spreading insecurity

The failure to control weaponry presents a major threat to U.S. and
global security, according to critics who question the use of
weapons exports as a tool of foreign policy.

“What we’ve done is spread insecurity around the world,” said
former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, who also served in the State Department
and now runs the United Nations Foundation.

Arms control advocates contend the rise of terrorism requires
stricter control at home – as well as internationally through
better treaties.

Americans “have to be certain who they are shipping arms to,”
said Wade Boese, research director for the Arms Control
Association, a Washington think tank. “If there is any blind spot,
any place arms slip through cracks, they can reach terrorists.”

But many defense industry leaders oppose increased regulation. They
argue weapons exports are essential even if there are risks. And
some regard arms control as a political tactic at best.

“You can’t control technology,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen.
Larry Farrell, president of the National Defense Industrial
Association. “There are going to be weapons. There are going to be
people who wish other people trouble.”

Terrorists have shown they can harness even ordinary technology to
kill Americans, Farrell pointed out.

And inevitably today’s cutting-edge weaponry “will be discovered
somewhere else,” he said. “It’s just the way people are. … You’ve
got to protect yourself.”

Staff writer Bruce Finley can be reached at 303.954.1700 or