WASHINGTON – The Pentagon said Tuesday it had stopped selling surplus F-14 parts, announcing the step after congressional criticism of security weaknesses that had given buyers for countries including Iran access to the aircraft parts and other valuable gear.
Sales of parts from the recently retired fleet were halted last Friday, Defense Logistics Agency spokesman Jack Hooper said, adding that marketing of the parts will remain suspended until a "comprehensive review" is completed. He did not immediately elaborate.
The decision comes as a Democratic senator moves to cut off all Pentagon sales of surplus F-14 parts, saying the military's marketing of the spares "defies common sense" in light of their importance to Iran.
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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 surreptitiously 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.
The surplus sales are one of the first national security issues to be addressed by the new Democratic-controlled Congress.
"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 movie, "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 had planned 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 could be sold safely without restrictions.
Some of those spares from the newly retired fleet probably have already been sold, the Defense Logistics Agency's Hooper said. The Defense Department plans to destroy about 10,000 other components it considers unique to the F-14.
The agency had been reviewing 23,000 other parts it believed it could sell under existing law but wanted to examine further in light of their potential value to Iran. It will now also review the thousands of nuts-and-bolts-type hardware.
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.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to investigate the surplus security weaknesses.
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