WASHINGTON - The U.S. Defense Department sold more than hundreds of aircraft parts that could be used on F-14 fighter jets - a plane flown only by Iran - after announcing it had halted sales of such surplus, government investigators say.
In a report issued Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said the Defense Department had improved security in its surplus program to prevent improper sales of sensitive items.
But investigators found that roughly 1,400 parts that could be used on F-14 Tomcat fighter jets were sold in February. That came after the Pentagon announced it had suspended sales of all parts that could be used on the Tomcat while it reviewed the security situation.
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Iran, trying to keep its F-14s able to fly, is aggressively seeking components from the retired U.S. Tomcat fleet.
The Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service, the Pentagon's surplus sales division, told investigators the parts were sold because it failed to update an automated control list and remove the aircraft parts before they were listed on its Internet sales site.
Video: Pentagon Sold F-14 Parts Sought by Iran
The GAO's investigation focused on F-14 parts. Iran is known to be seeking those, and if the parts were available publicly, it could endanger national security, Greg Kutz, the GAO's managing director of special investigations, wrote in the report. Iran has managed to obtain U.S. spares in the past, he said.
Kutz said he does not know whether any of the Tomcat parts sold in February made it to Iran. The GAO forwarded details about some of the sales to federal law enforcers for possible investigation, he said.
"Overall I think it's a positive report, but there are still things that got out," Kutz said in an interview.
A Democratic senator said the investigation shows why legislation he proposed that would ban the sale of all F-14 parts is needed.
"The Pentagon's system is still riddled with holes," Sen. Ron Wyden said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "These are the very parts that they said they wouldn't be selling, and they still are, and so you've got to make sure the changes are going to actually have teeth and work."
The Defense Department said in January that it was suspending sales of all F-14 parts, including those that could be used on multiple types of aircraft, while the Pentagon reviewed security.
That announcement came a few weeks after an investigative report by The Associated Press found weaknesses in surplus-sale security that allowed buyers for Iran, China and other countries surreptitiously to obtain sensitive U.S. military gear including missile components and parts for the Tomcat and the U.S. Army's Chinook helicopter.
The congressional investigators also looked at sensitive military leftovers in general that were supposed to have been destroyed rather than sold in Pentagon surplus auctions.
In the first month of their inquiry, last September, they found the Pentagon had sold 295 items to the public that were supposed to have been destroyed. After that, although several items that were to have been destroyed were posted on the surplus Web site for sale, they were spotted and removed before they were sold, the report said.
The military's surplus service told the GAO that between last August and May, about 2.4 million individual pieces of sensitive surplus were removed from public sale.
He said his legislation recognizes "that the Pentagon has bumbled to the point where they can't make the distinction" between sensitive and innocuous surplus, Wyden said.
The F-14 legislation, sponsored by Wyden and Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, has passed the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate.
Wyden said he will try to attach it to a defense spending bill that the Senate is expected to consider next month. The lawmakers sponsored the bill in reaction to the AP's story on surplus security.
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