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Iran upping efforts to obtain U.S. arms illegally, agents say

Mon., April 17, 2006

LOS ANGELES – The Iranian government has intensified efforts to illegally obtain weapons technology from the United States, contracting with dealers across the country for spare parts to maintain its aging American-made air force planes, its missile forces and its alleged nuclear weapons program, according to federal law enforcement authorities.

Over the past two years, arms dealers have exported or attempted to export to Iran experimental aircraft; machines used for measuring the strength of steel, which is critical in the development of nuclear weapons; assembly kits for F-14 Tomcat fighter jets; and a range of components used in missile systems and fighter-jet engines.

“Iran’s weapons acquisition program is becoming more organized,” said Stephen Bogni, acting chief of the Arms and Strategic Technology Investigations Unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “They are looking for more varied and sophisticated technology. Night-vision equipment, unmanned aircraft, missile technology” and weapons of mass destruction.

Federal agents say that as tensions increase over Tehran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, so does the concern that Iran might strike at U.S. forces and personnel stationed in Iraq and other countries if the United States or its allies take military action against that program. In recent weeks, Tehran has announced new weapons systems, including missiles it claims to be invisible to radar and torpedoes too fast to be avoided, although U.S. experts have questioned Iran’s assertions about its capabilities.

The Bush administration says it is committed to a diplomatic solution to address its concerns that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran contends it wants only to generate electricity. But, in recent months, it has flouted U.N. Security Council demands that it abandon key parts of its program, and, last week, it announced it had successfully enriched uranium.

Calls for comment to the Iranian Mission to the United Nations were not returned.

“Most of the material the Iranians are seeking is aging technology, but it’s technology that could still hurt the United States and its allies today,” said Serge Duarte, acting special agent-in-charge of ICE investigations in San Diego. Federal agents said the main method for obtaining U.S. technology is not through espionage but through simple business deals. “We’re not talking about 007 running around trying to steal these parts,” Bogni said. “We’re talking about the Iranian government putting out shopping lists to brokers and greedy businessmen.”


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