The Man Who Armed Iraq

On the second day of the trial, Soghanalian decided to settle the lawsuit for an undisclosed figure, and the judge agreed to seal all records of the courtroom proceedings.

Col. Jack Brennan, the ex-Marine who served as military aide to former President Richard Nixon, is a tough, blunt-talking Irishman. The morning after Nixon resigned from office, Brennan was among the select few who boarded the helicopter that whisked Nixon away from the White House. At San Clemente Brennan became Nixon's chief of staff. During those years in domestic exile, the disgraced president was still popular overseas, and Brennan, in his twelve years with Nixon, got to rub shoulders with world leaders such as Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Egyptain President Anwar Sadat, Leonid Brezhnev, and Mao Tse-tung.

In l980 Brennan left Nixon and went to work with a friend, former Attorney General John Mitchell, who had just opened his own consulting firm, Global Research International. Mitchell could no longer work in his chosen profession, the law, because he had been disbarred after his criminal conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice during the Watergate scandal. He had not held a job in some time, having recently been released from prison after serving a nineteen-month sentence. Mitchell was Global's chairman; Brennan later became president.

In early l983, Brennan met Sarkis Soghanalian. According to Brennan, a friend from his military days approached him with a problem. The friend's new employer, Hughes Aircraft Corporation, wanted to ship some helicopters to Iraq but wasn't sure the company could get legal approval to do so. "I made some inquiries," Brennan recalls. "I talked to people at State and Commerce. The type they wanted to ship were civilian models. They would have been approved

Still, Soghanalian, a broker in the Hughes deal, credited Brennan's influential connections for having solved the problem. He set up a meeting with Brennan and boasted about his contacts around the world, including in Baghdad. "I will introduce you to a lot more business," Soghanalian told Brennan. "Come with me to Iraq and see."

Before taking up Soghanalian's offer to go to Iraq and associate with Saddam Hussein, however, Brennan says he checked with some of the "highest government officials." During a recent lunch with a reporter, Brennan was asked which officials granted that approval. He pretended at first not to hear the question. Then, smiling, he asserted that although he would not name names, those he had consulted with were the "very most senior" officials of the Reagan Administration, and added, "You couldn't go much higher than these guys." Soon thereafter Brennan accompanied Soghanalian on the first of several trips to Baghdad. Just as quickly, though, he began to have qualms with some of the business practices of his newfound acquaintance.

Not long after having secured for Soghanalian official permission to sell civilian helicopters to Iraq, Brennan says he got a call to come down to Miami to discuss another sale of Hughes helicopters to Saddam. In the presence of a Hughes executive, Soghanalian asked if it was possible for Brennan to get approval from Washington for a potential sale to Iraq of more than 100 Hughes military helicopters equipped with TOW missiles. Brennan told Soghanalian there was nothing he could do; such a sale would be illegal because of the existing arms embargo. "I told him not to do it," Brennan recalls. "I looked at them and said, `This is fucking illegal. It's against the law.' But he [Soghanalian] didn't want to hear that. So I just left the room and told them on the way out, `I don't want any part of this shit.'"

Despite such straight talk, the very next day Brennan was invited to lunch along with two executives from Hughes and a number of Iraqi military officers. As Brennan listened, they described a scheme to accomplish the sale of the Hughes combat helicopters. They would tell the State Department's Office of Munitions Control that the aircraft were meant for Kuwait. The helicopters would be based in Kuwait, but flown by Iraqi pilots and used in battle against Iran. "We own the Kuwaiti air force," one of the Iraqi military officers informed Brennan. At another point, the Iraqis told him, "We have an entire squadron in Kuwait" and routinely run military air operations out of Kuwait.

Brennan says he counseled against the deception, and thought Soghanalian and the others had abandoned the scheme. But according to federal investigators, Soghanalian, the Hughes executives, and the Iraqi military officers went ahead. When other officials at Hughes became suspicious of the large number of helicopters to be shipped to a small country like Kuwait, they contacted federal law enforcement officials, who commenced an investigation. Shortly after the inquiry began, Hughes fired the two executives involved, Carl D. Perry and William Ellis.

On December 2, l987, a Miami federal grand jury indicted Perry and Ellis, alleging they had conspired with Soghanalian to violate the Arms Export Control Act by planning to transfer to Iraq l03 of the Hughes combat helicopters fitted with TOW missiles. A second indictment charged Soghanalian for his own role, and also alleged that he had attempted to send rocket launchers to Iraq and that he had recruited two Miami-area Air Force reserve officers to travel to Baghdad in order to teach the Iraqis how to fly an American-made F-4 Phantom jet, a plane they had obtained when an Iranian pilot defected. Three years later the case has yet to come to trial, largely because U.S. intelligence agencies have been reluctant to turn over classified documents the defendants say they need to conduct their defense.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets