Published March 23, 2003
WASHINGTON – Russian arms dealers have equipped Iraq with supplies and electronic jamming equipment that could throw U.S. planes and bombs off course, Fox News has confirmed.
The Washington Post first reported Sunday that Bush administration sources reported that a Russian company is helping the Iraqi military deploy global-positioning system jammers to Baghdad. Two other companies have sold anti-tank missiles and thousands of night-vision goggles in violation of U.N. sanctions.
The United States protested the aid to the Russian government on Saturday for not doing more to stop the transactions, the Post reported.
Fox News confirmed that Russians were in fact selling the equipment to Baghdad and that Russian technicians were in the Iraqi capital this week, instructing Iraqis on how to use the devices. Russians were in Baghdad as of Friday but it's not known whether they have left.
"We are very concerned about reports that Russian firms are selling militarily sensitive equipment to Iraq," State Department spokeswoman Brenda Greenberg told Fox News. "Such equipment in the hands of the Iraqi military may pose a direct threat to U.S. and coalition armed forces."
During more than a year of talks, the Russian officials initially denied the existence of the company that sold the electronic jammers, U.S. officials said. Later, the Russians said they were closely monitoring the company.
"The stuff's there, it's on the ground and they're trying to use it against us," a U.S. official told the Post. Of the Russians, the official said: "This is a disregard for human life. It sickens my stomach."
U.S. officials say they provided Russian authorities with names, addresses and phone numbers -- and in some cases, shipping dates and ports of exit -- of people involved in the sales so that Moscow could deal with it.
"We regard this as a very serious matter and thus have raised it with the Russian government at very high levels over the past two weeks," Greenberg told Fox News. "The response so far has not been satisfactory. We hope the responsible Russian agencies will take our concerns seriously."
With regard to night-vision goggles, U.S. intelligence agencies have seen some of the contracts -- required by international law -- in which the Russian government had to certify the end user of the equipment. In almost all cases, that end user was Yemen or Syria -- although Yemen has declared itself an allied partner in the war on terror. U.S. officials believe that the Yemeni or Syrian governments made sure the equipment got safely to Baghdad.
Saddam Hussein's regime has upped its stockpile of anti-tank guided missiles produced by a company called KBP Tula, the Post reported. The United States hit this company with sanctions last year for selling anti-tank weapons to Syria, officials said.
But Iraq bought a "militarily significant quantity" of Kornet missiles from that company in the past two months, reports the Post, and Putin's government was notified.
The White House voiced the greatest opposition to the jamming devices, which officials said sell for thousands of dollars each and were sold by the Moscow-based manufacturer, Aviaconversiya, the Post reported. Protests were first lodged in June 2002.
These devices were initially imported to counter U.S. and British jets patrolling the "no-fly" zones of northern and southern Iraq, U.S. officials told the Post, and were deployed last week when coalition forces began to attack Baghdad.
Russian officials have even been summoned to Washington to discuss these issues. U.S. officials were angered when they found out last week that the Russian firms were showing Iraqis how to use and fix the equipment.
The Russians "sure as hell should have been able to stop these guys," an official told the Post.
The U.S. government suspects that the Russians were hiding some of the jamming equipment in humanitarian aid flights to Baghdad, Fox News has learned. The boxes are about 3 ft. x 3 ft.
Fox News reported in January that Iraq may have obtained as many as 400 electronic "jammers" that could throw America's smart bombs off their programmed path if the U.S. goes to war.
There was "real concern at the highest levels" at the Pentagon that Baghdad may have purchased the jammers from a Russian firm, a senior defense official said then.
Officials said that if the smart bombs are diverted from their designated targets, no one knows what, or whom, they might hit instead. The worst-case scenario is they might fall on civilian sites and kill innocent people, causing collateral damage.
The types of bombs whose courses may be altered by these jammers are called J-Dams -- for "joint direct attack munitions," guided by global satellites. These are the military's GPS-guided bombs. Each one costs about $21,000 and has a maximum range of 15 miles. J-Dams made their combat debut in Kosovo in 1999.
It's estimated that 80 percent of U.S. weapons that would be used in a war with Iraq would be directed via satellites.
The Air Force is now trying to test similar jammers to see if those used by an enemy can really work on U.S. weapons.
Fox News' Foreign Affairs Analyst Marc Ginsberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, said Sunday that Arab television channels are reporting that the United States is angry at Russia over the GPS jamming devices, in part because the Pentagon had to slow down its bombing of Baghdad for fear that the bombs would hit civilian targets.
Defense officials confirm the extensive use of GPS-guided munitions, including Tomahawks, JDAMs, and the EGBU-27 used to hit the Iraqi leadership compound on Wednesday night. These are all being used throughout the country. All of the munitions used in Baghdad have been GPS-guided.
Fox News' Teri Schultz contributed to this report.