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Pentagon Accidentally Sold Parts for Iranian Fighters, Most Recovered

Investigators from the U.S. Congress say earlier this year the Defense Department sold nearly 1,400 collections of surplus parts that can be used in aging fighter jets now only flown by Iran, in spite of a ban on such sales. But VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon an official says nearly all the items have been recovered and most were ordinary hardware.

The report from the Government Accountability Office says the parts were sold in February, the month after the ban was imposed, due to an error by a defense department contractor. The report says the contracting company tried to remove the parts from a website it uses to sell surplus military equipment, but the effort failed.

A spokesman for the defense department agency that handles such sales (the Defense Reutilization and Marketing System) says most of the material was what he calls "general hardware" that could be used in F-14 Tomcat fighters and also for a variety of other purposes. The spokesman, Jack Hooper, says the items were not specifically designed for the F-14, and did not involve weaponry, flight controls or wing parts.

But he says 23 of the surplus lots contained items subject to export controls, meaning that the buyer could not re-sell them abroad without specific government approval. Hooper says all but two of the groups of parts have been recovered, and the defense department is in contact with the buyers of the other two in an effort to also get them back. He could not say what type of material is in those two lots.

The report did not say who bought the material or how much it was worth, and Hooper could not provide that information Thursday.

Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the January ban includes anything that could be used on an F-14.

"Any parts that can be identified as being part of an F-14 to include even very simple hardware such as nuts and bolts fell under the suspension," he said.

Iran is the only country that still flies the aging fighter jets, first introduced in the mid-1970s. Reports indicate Iran aggressively seeks spare parts to keep the planes in the air, and the congressional investigator who prepared this report says high-technology circuit boards were included in a previous sale. But the investigator, Gregory Kutz, says the Pentagon has made "real progress" in controlling its surplus sales during the last year.

The Pentagon Spokesman, Bryan Whitman, could not speak about any specific parts from this sale, but he said it is very difficult to follow what happens to surplus military equipment once the Pentagon sells it. He says that is why the department imposed the total ban on all F-14 part sales.

"Sometimes people will buy parts for what are seemingly innocent or appropriate use, but are then sold a second or a third time in ways in which they were not intended to," he added.

The congressional investigators urge officials to further improve controls to ensure sensitive material is not sold accidentally in the future.

Whitman says the Pentagon earned nearly $2 billion from surplus sales last year, and the investigator, Gregory Kutz, says the department is also saving a lot of money by making its system more efficient so it does not sell things it needs, and then has to go out and buy again.