Friday, August 03, 2007

Pentagon sold plane parts sought by Iran

Pentagon sold plane parts sought by Iran: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon has mistakenly sold the public about 1,400 aircraft parts that Iran is known to be seeking for its aging fleet of U.S. F-14 "Tomcat" fighter planes, according to a government report.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, told lawmakers the aircraft parts were subject to controls that should have kept them from the public but that a technical glitch allowed for their sale.

The Pentagon suspended the sale of all F-14 related parts, including simple nuts and bolts, in January. But the GAO said the aircraft parts were sold to unidentified buyers in February.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to build a nuclear bomb and helping destabilize Iraq. On Monday, it announced a military aid package worth more than $43 billion for Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to bolster them against Iran and others.

All but two of the 1,385 parts in question have been retrieved and the owners of the two parts still at large have been contacted, said Jack Hooper, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency.

General hardware nuts and bolts accounted for 1,362 of the parts, Hooper said in an e-mail.

There was no indication any of the parts were obtained by Iran, which maintains Tomcat fighters from the 1970s.

The Defense Department "had identified these items as parts that could be used on the F-14 fighter aircraft," the GAO said in a July 6 report to the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"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," it said.

The GAO released the document on Wednesday.

According to the GAO, the sales took place because the Pentagon was unable to update an automated control list on a Defense Department Web site.

The F-14 Tomcat, used primarily by the U.S. Navy, ended 32 years of service as an American warplane in 2006.