The Washington Post’s Saturday front page article “U.S. military criticized for purchase of Russian copters for Afghan air corps” once again raised concerns about the Pentagon’s purchase of foreign-sourced arms. While the Post highlighted opposition of the helicopter deal by U.S. Senators such as Richard Shelby for “massive waste, cost overruns, schedule delays, safety concerns and major delivery problems”, it failed to mention the serious risk of DoD hiring unscrupulous or problematic arms brokers in such deals. As DoD continues to purchase foreign-sourced arms, including 10 new Russian helicopters for Afghanistan, additional controls are urgently needed.
In September 2009, Amnesty International USA published a policy briefing that highlighted six cases in which Pentagon funds were used to contract arms brokers that had been either connected to breaches of international arms embargoes, named in reliable UN reports as being involved in illegal arms trafficking, listed on the U.S. Department of State’s Watch List, or whose agent had been indicted for breaches of U.S. arms control laws. All of these contracts were for foreign-sourced assault rifles or ammunition. As a result, millions of U.S. dollars were given to these individuals and in at least one case the U.S. government received tons of faulty ammunition, putting Afghan and U.S. forces at risk.
One of the key reason’s DoD funds were funneled to these arms brokers is a significant lack of controls on foreign-sourced arms purchases compared to controls on U.S. arms exports. For example, in some cases DoD officials are not aware of or do not screen all of the subcontractors involved in a contract to procure or transfer foreign-sourced arms. There are also no contract clauses that specifically prohibit prime contractors from subcontracting with entities that have been accused of transferring arms in contravention of U.S. national laws or convicted of arms trafficking in foreign courts.
Although some may think purchasing larger arms such as helicopters diminishes the risk of hiring problematic arms brokers, look no further than the Army’s past purchase of Russian helicopters for Afghanistan. According to a blog in early 2009 on Wired, the U.S. Army reportedly hired an unknown Slovak ambulance company to supply three of the Russian Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan, and the helicopters had to be returned.