By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
This investigation has confirmed a third instance in which the U.S. was willing to trade arms to Iraq in return for Soviet military technology, despite the existing arms embargo. According to U.S. officials involved in the scheme, and supported by documents obtained during the investigation, the plan developed in early 1983, after an executive with Hughes Aircraft Corporation informed Pentagon officials of Iraqi offers to provide a Soviet-made Hind-D helicopter in exchange for the opportunity to purchase a number of American military helicopters. According to classified documents, the Hughes executive, Carl D. Perry, met twice with Lt. Col. Norman Blaylock, who was in charge of the Pentagon's secret acquisition program, in April and May of l983.
Intelligence sources now say that Caspar Weinberger, in his role as secretary of defense, was briefed about and approved of this possible arms exchange, as well as the other two. (Both the Soviets' T-72 tank and the Hind-D helicopter were of great interest to the U.S. military because of the role they would be expected to play in any European clash between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces.) Due to Weinberger's involvement, the sources say, Pentagon officials believed that congressional intelligence committees had been told of the transactions, thus making them legal. But Weinberger and other Pentagon officials, the sources say, were concerned about something else - the involvement of an individual participating in the helicopter deal: Sarkis Soghanalian.
Weinberger's reported uneasiness with Soghanalian's role in a highly secret weapons exchange stemmed not from a lack of familiarity (Soghanalian, after all, had worked closely with the Central Intelligence Agency for many years) but rather from the Miami arms merchant's history of federal indictments for alleged criminal activity. According to one intelligence source, Carl Perry, the Hughes executive, "was told this [arms deal] was a top priority and the Pentagon was very interested. But we would in no way have anything to do with Soghanalian. If Perry could cut out Soghanalian, we were interested. But as long as he was involved, we were going to pass."
Perry never got the opportunity to put together a deal on his own. He was fired from his job at Hughes a short time later and became a target of a federal investigation after it was learned that he and another Hughes executive were attempting to arrange a separate - and allegedly illegal - sale of military helicopters to Iraq. Their partner in that scheme: Sarkis
Documents describing Soghanalian's activities show that over the last decade he has brokered billions of dollars in arms sales to Saddam Hussein. So intimate were his relations with the Iraqi regime that one former U.S. Customs investigator noted, "The word was out that if anyone wanted to do business in Iraq, Sarkis was the man to see." A confidential investigative report prepared by the Customs Service reiterated the investigator's comments. The report related that Soghanalian was to attend a meeting at the Iraqi embassy in Washington on June l4, l984 to arrange arms shipments to Iraq: "Soghanalian has already provided from sources outside the U.S. 500 surface-to-surface Russian-made missiles and is to provide explosives and ammunition from Brazil. Soghanalian's capacity to provide major weaponry is an established fact." Though federal prosecutors claim that some of Soghanalian's dealings with Iraq have been illegal, this investigation has found evidence that officials of the Reagan Administration worked behind the scenes to encourage and facilitate some of his efforts to arm Saddam.
Court records, for example, show that in 1981 Soghanalian brokered a huge, $1.4 billion sale of French-made howitzer cannons to Iraq. U.S. intelligence sources have confirmed that the Iraqis first approached the Reagan Administration about purchasing such long-range artillery directly from the U.S. But because of the arms embargo, the Reagan Administration instead encouraged private arms traffickers and friendly third countries.
The Iraqis put Soghanalian in charge of the effort, and he approached several European nations before the French government of Francois Mitterand agreed to sell dozens of l55-millimeter howitzers to Saddam. According to intelligence sources, the Reagan Administration, through a diplomatic back channel, encouraged the French to finalize the sale. Two highly reliable law enforcement sources who have been able to review classified U.S. intelligence files relating to the French howitzer deal - including documents from the CIA, National Security Agency, Pentagon, and State Department - say those files show that U.S. intelligence agencies had extensive knowledge of and monitored the howitzer shipment to Iraq. And there is nothing in those same files to suggest, the sources say, that the Reagan Administration did anything to discourage the transaction.
The French-made howitzers - among the most expensive, powerful, and sophisticated in the world - have since been photographed by U.S. spy satellites on the Iraq border, poised against U.S. troop positions in Saudi Arabia.
Still other evidence shows that some of Soghanalian's sales of military equipment to Iraq were approved by high-level officials of the Reagan Administration. Among other transactions, Soghanalian served as a broker in delivering more than $181 million in military uniforms to the Iraqi regime from the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, according to documents obtained during this investigation and interviews with several of the principals involved. Two of Soghanalian's partners in the sale maintained close contacts with officials of the Reagan Administration: the late John Mitchell, who served as attorney general during the Nixon Administration, and Col. Jack Brennan, who served in the Nixon White House as the president's personal military advisor. Brennan and Mitchell also assisted Soghanalian with the sale to Iraq of armored cars and civilian helicopters.