Senator Ron Wyden Tries to Block Sale of F-14 Parts Sought by Iran

Published January 30, 2007

| Associated Press

A Democratic senator is trying to block the Pentagon from selling spare parts from its recently retired F-14 fleet that are coveted by Iran.

Sen. Ron Wyden's bill came in response to an investigation by The Associated Press that found weaknesses in surplus-sale security that allowed buyers for countries including Iran and China to obtain sensitive U.S. military equipment including Tomcat parts.

The Oregon Democrat's legislation would ban the Defense Department from selling surplus F-14 parts and prohibit buyers who have already acquired surplus Tomcat parts from exporting them. Wyden's bill, the Stop Arming Iran Act, is co-sponsored by the Senate's No. 2 lawmaker, Democratic Whip Richard Durbin of Illinois.

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"It just defies common sense to be making this kind of equipment available to the Iranians with all that they have done that is against our interests," Wyden said Monday in an interview, adding that constituents brought up the surplus-sale security problems at his town-hall meetings over the past few days. "I just want to legislate this and cut it off permanently, once and for all."

The Tomcat is the fighter jet made famous in the 1986 Tom Cruise blockbuster "Top Gun." The U.S. military retired its F-14s last fall. That leaves only Iran — which bought the fighter jet in the 1970s when it was a U.S. ally — flying the planes.

U.S. law enforcement officials believe Iran can produce only about 15 percent of the parts it needs for its Tomcats, making the Pentagon's surplus sales a valuable avenue for spares.

The Pentagon already plans to sell about 60 percent of the roughly 76,000 parts for the F-14, viewing them as general nuts-and-bolts-type aircraft hardware that can be sold safely to the public without restrictions.

Some of those spares from the newly retired fleet likely have already been sold, Jack Hooper, a Defense Logistics Agency spokesman, said Monday. The Defense Department plans to destroy about 10,000 other components it considers unique to the F-14.

The agency is reviewing 23,000 other parts it believes it can sell under existing law. But it said it will consider their potential value to Iran.

Those parts, of both military and commercial value, are of particular concern to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office. The GAO has conducted its own inquiry into surplus security and found loopholes. It wants assurances the parts won't be sold.

Wyden said his bill would cut off the sale of all surplus F-14 parts. The legislation includes all parts to cut off all opportunities for Iranian "fishing expeditions," spokeswoman Jennifer Hoelzer said, adding that GAO investigations have found valuable surplus accidentally getting included in boxes of what are supposed to be nuts-and-bolts-type hardware.

Wyden is confident he can get the bill through the Senate in the next few months. Wyden, a senior member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also pledged greater Senate oversight of the surplus program.

Hooper declined to comment on the legislation.

"We're certainly not going to attempt to interfere whatsoever in the legislative process," Hooper said. The Defense Department maintains it has followed all procedures in selling its surplus.

The AP reported the Pentagon's F-14 part sales plans earlier this month. Its investigation found that in several cases, buyers for countries that included Iran and China took advantage of security flaws to buy sensitive surplus, including aircraft parts and missile components.

In at least case, surplus gear made it to Iran, investigators say. A Pakistani arms broker bought Chinook helicopter engine parts for Iran from a U.S. company that had bought them in a Pentagon surplus sale, and the parts got to Iran, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to investigate the surplus security weaknesses.

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