Hiding in Plain Sight – US Military Sales Gone Rogue?

In the 60s the US military had the ingenious idea to purge the armed services of excess and dated weaponry that would increase operational capability of US forces and allow America’s allies to purchase military equipment that would improve interoperability. Congress formally created the Foreign Military Sales program (FMS), however, like any well-intentioned government program, it morphed into something other than its intended purpose, in this case, an international arms trafficking business.

The US does have legislation to oversee Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) programs; however, it looks like the defense industry is circumventing the intended burdensome regulations, apparently with government consent, by partnering with foreign countries to arm America’s Middle East partners. The defense firms are now licensing US technology through FMS/FMF/DSCS departments to arm many Middle Eastern countries, many with terrorist ties.

For example, military defense contractors, like Lockheed Martin, have partnered with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) under the state-owned company Advanced Military Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Center (AMMROC) to weaponize Black Hawk helicopters and Falcon F-16s (block 60/61), American’s workhorse fighter.

The latter is especially troubling because Lockheed Martin is PARTNERING with UAE to build the most advanced technological F-16s inside the Emirates. Federal law explicitly prohibits the modification of US military weapons and systems transferred under the FMS program. But increasingly, US defense industries are venturing with foreign corporations to manufacture and supply state of the art weaponry under the aegis of national security.

In 2017 Rick Groesch, Lockheed’s regional vice president at the time, told The National, in Abu Dhabi, "We are talking to some in the region [about sales]." The International Defense Exhibition and Conference introduced Lockheed Martin’s idea to sell F-16s to Bahrain. The program was initiated under Obama, but after the 2016 presidential election, Groesch said the Trump administration was eager to continue negotiations.

"We are talking to them [Bahrain] about it, and the [US] government is talking to them about buying an additional production aircraft which will be designated Block 70 [technology]," he concluded.

Andrew Strike of the Department of State responded to questions about the military and its partnership with Lockheed Martin by sending a February 4, 2019 link: "Under US law, any US company or individual involved in certain activities involving the items enumerated on the USML is required to receive an approved export license or other approval before providing any USML regulated item, technical data, or service to a foreign end-user. As with FMS, export licenses approved under DCS are approved following an intensive US government review and, as required, after Congressional notification. Export licenses are valid for up to four years. Authorizations for defense services are also required and may last for longer timeframes. Licenses and authorizations may be extended or amended as needed. DCS cases are considered to be a proprietary agreement between the foreign governments or companies and the US defense contractor. However, certain information about cases notified to Congress is published quarterly in the Federal Register, in fulfillment of requirements in the Arms Export Control Act."

In laymen’s terms, the State Department considers the FMS program in conformity with US law and believes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates will fulfill their contractual requirements to retain procession of all US military equipment.

So far, the program has flown under the media radar and received little attention over the sales of high-tech weapons to favored Middle East nations. In essence, the State Department along with the Defense Department has overseen a program that essentially allows US businesses to operate with Middle East governments to loosen the congressionally mandated end-user agreements.

Typically an end-user certificate contains the parameters of the purchase governing how military weapons must be used and they cannot be transferred to a third nation or party without United States approval. It also requires that the end user provide the same physical security as the US provides and the recipient nation must allow the Americans to verify compliance on a regular basis.

The original statutory law included strict guidelines that partner nations could not be sponsors of terrorism or human rights violators. However, the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been designated as sponsors of terrorism. Both countries are listed on the State Department’s human rights list. Those designations should exclude KSA and UAE from participating in the FMS/FMF/DSCA programs. A White House waiver is required to sell FMS to countries in violation of the statute based upon a presidential finding that the sales meet US "national security" requirements.

The consequences for broadening foreign military sales to questionable state actors are plentiful. A 2017 Reuters article highlighted the Emirates violated the UN arms embargo in Libya by aiding military commander Khalifa Haftar. UAE provided enhanced air superiority to Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to gain the upper hand last year in a conflict between rival groups vying for control of Libya.

The United Nations also said it received evidence that attack helicopters were delivered to the LNA group in April 2015. The UN report published "a photo of an AT-802i single-engine plane which was based in eastern Libya. The plane, originally designed for agricultural or firefighting use, was repurposed in the United States for counter-insurgency [operations] and sold to the UAE."

The UN also confirmed LNA received a shipment of "… Ninety-three armored personnel carriers and 549 armored and non-armored vehicles …" destined for the LNA in April 2016. The report concluded Saudi Arabian carriers’ shipped Panther T6 and Tygra models; coincidentally, companies based in the UAE, modified and delivered those weapons to the North African battlefield.

The so-called "partnership" between US corporations and the UAE is highlighted in a Human Rights Watch Report (HRW) written last month accusing the UAE of playing a leading role as Saudi Arabia’s proxy in the war in Yemen. HRW argued that the UAE "conducted scores of unlawful attacks in Yemen."

They "documented 87 unlawful coalition attacks, some likely war crimes, that have killed nearly 1,000 civilians."

Adding fuel to the deadly region is the Emirates deployment of 30 aircraft committed to bombing various targets in Yemen. According to HRC, "A helicopter attacked a boat carrying Somali migrants and refugees off Yemen’s coast, killing and wounding dozens, a member of the UAE armed forces said UAE forces were operating in the area but denied carrying out the attack."

Despite this egregious behavior, FMS weapons continue to stream onto battlegrounds across the globe. A Senior State Department official explained, "review and monitoring are an integral component of the process for US-origin defense articles delivered to any recipient nation. The monitoring is to make sure that those articles are being used in the manner intended and are consistent with our legal obligations, foreign policy goals, and values." Unfortunately, the US is not able to monitor all high tech weapons and sadly the corrupt nations resort to reselling US weapons to terrorist organizations."

When it comes to terrorism, numerous think tanks and academia believe Saudi Arabia, not Iran, is the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. In fact, this week the EU took an extraordinary action to curb terrorist funding by adding the House of Saud to the list of Terror-Funding Nations. "We have established the strongest anti-money laundering standards in the world, but we have to make sure that dirty money from other countries does not find its way to our financial system,” Vera Jourova, the European commissioner said in a statement. “Dirty money is the lifeblood of organized crime and terrorism."

Even the Obama administration understood the terrorism realities. Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State, wrote a memo in 2009 that was released by WikiLeaks. The memo acknowledged state "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide… Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar e-Tayyiba], and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources."

Mrs. Clinton also confirmed the Saudi government was doing little to curb its ties with Royal family members funding terrorism that continues to kill Americans and its allies in the region.

Regrettably, the disconnect between Middle East reality and the military brass is ever-present as Commander, US Central Command (CENTCOM) Army General Joseph Votel, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week and told members he thinks the US needs STRONGER agreements with KSA and UAE. "We look to strengthen our security cooperation partnership through continued engagement and FMS programs."

Votel suggested all countries stand to gain from additional military weapon sales. "The US and UAE cooperate under a strong bilateral framework to prevent and respond to conflicts and crises, and the UAE has clearly indicated a desire to forge even stronger military relationships with the US," he explained. "The UAE is active in an operational partnership to disrupt terrorist networks and reduce terrorist attacks and is the only member of the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen to expand its military objectives to include counter-terrorism alongside the US."

The CENTCOM Commander said the Emirates "expressed a desire to strengthen our relationship through a nine-point Defense Cooperation Roadmap, which supports our NDS [National Defense Strategy] through increased burden sharing in its own defense. The UAE’s purchase of US produced weapon systems will help secure interoperability."

The General was confident that the UAE would stand with America in its fight against Violent Extremist Organizations (VEOs) aka terrorists, operating in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan.

In this case, the proof is not in the pudding as a Yemen bomb strike killed 44 children. Additional reporting from the Associated Press acknowledged that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are partaking in "secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash … hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself."

For its part, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) is working with interagency offices to improve the efficiency and efficacy of the FMS process. They reduced its Administrative Surcharge from 3.5 percent to 3.2 percent to reduce the cost of doing business with the United States Government. DSCA also cut the FMS Transportation Rate, providing partner nations with more cost-effective options to transfer US defense articles and services using the Defense Transportation System.

"These policy changes advance U.S. national security and foreign policy because they make FMS more attractive in a very competitive market," said DSCA Director LTG Charles Hooper. "The United States not only sells the world’s most state-of-the-art defense systems, but we also strengthen our alliances and attract new partners through enduring strategic and defense partnership."

As President Trump seeks to disengage from the Middle East, weapon sales are proliferating at an alarming rate.

Editorial Note: Lockheed Martin’s Integrated Fighter Group Communications, John Losinger responded to an email regarding the UAE deal, "Thank you for reaching out to us. I will send you our responses ASAP." A response was not received by press time.

Kimberly Dvorak is a national security and border security investigative reporter for TV, radio, and print media. Her experience as an investigative journalist ranges from national security issues like Gitmo’s Khalid Sheik Mohammad’s 9/11 trial, immigration, and foreign policy issues as a TV correspondent for CW6 News in San Diego as well as One America News Network.

She has received several awards for national and international news coverage on Mexican cartels as well as Middle East Wars. She has a 25-year career covering news around the world from South Africa to South America.

Ms. Dvorak also is a regular contributor for Human Events, Washington Guardian, The Federal Observer, The JD Wells Radio Show, Washington Times, CRN Radio, as well as many others.