Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Henry J. Hyde, Chairman

CONTACT: Sam Stratman, (202) 226-7875, March 16, 2005

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Hyde Releases GAO Report Detailing Weaknesses in U.S. Weapons Export Policy Since 9/11
Intends to Introduce Legislation to Overhaul U.S. Arms Export Controls
to Deal with Export Risks of the War on Terror

(WASHINGTON) – In a report to Congress released today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that the Department of State has done little since the 2001 terrorist attacks to address weaknesses in regulations designed to prevent illegal exports of U.S. weapons and military technology.

The report, requested by U.S. Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also concludes that the Department is failing to coordinate its oversight efforts with U.S. law enforcement agencies.

“The report points to a number of unwelcome trends and raises troubling questions, foremost among them being why the State Department continues to pursue policies and procedures designed before 9/11 to “streamline” or relax arms export controls  – even as these policies raise serious concerns among US law enforcement agencies,” said Hyde.

The U.S. arms export control system is directed on a day-to-day basis by the State Department under authority of the Arms Export Control Act.  In February 2004, Chairman Hyde requested that GAO conduct a review of this program to determine:  where and how the export control system had been strengthened since 9/11 in order to respond to the war on terrorism; and the status of various decontrol measures announced in May 2000 prior to 9/11.

In promoting commerce of sensitive weapons technology, the GAO found what Hyde termed a “business as usual” focus by State on policies to relax controls over weapons transferred to foreign persons under a policy designed before 9/11 to promote foreign commerce.    With an overriding emphasis on “streamlining” and “cutting red tape,” Hyde said State’s arms export control program had become a “reinvention lab” and bore a disquieting resemblance to the visa policies of State described in the 9/11 Commission’s staff report on terrorist travel.

The GAO report found lengthy delays in processing export licenses needed for coalition allies in Iraq and Afghanistan and only “limited” coordination with law enforcement agencies in the U.S.  However, the source of the greatest friction appears to be State’s commitment to liberalizing export controls, notwithstanding the war on terror. 

            “I come away from reading GAO’s report absolutely persuaded that a top-to-bottom risk assessment of our arms export control program is now dangerously overdue, and that it requires the fullest participation of our law enforcement, intelligence and defense agencies, as well as oversight by Congress,” Hyde stated.  “This is why I intend to introduce legislation in this session that will require such an assessment.  I hope we can work with the Administration to get this done without further delay.” 

Last year, the Committee published a scathing report on State’s proposal to allow weapons exports to companies in the United Kingdom and Australia without requiring the issuance of a license.  The proposal was eventually doomed when the FBI arrested a UK national in Newark attempting to broker the sale of shoulder-fired missiles to terrorists.  The Committee’s report pointed out that shoulder-fired missiles and other lethal equipment would have been exempt from review under State’s proposal.  

            The Department maintains in the GAO report that “there is no reason to believe that any U.S. defense items have been used in terrorist attacks.”  However, information on State’s website related to the 1998 Embassy bombing prosecution indicates bin Laden was able to acquire a

T-39 military transport aircraft without much difficulty in the United States in the early 1990s, and fly it to Sudan.  The aircraft was used to ferry weapons and to transport al-Qaeda personnel from Khartoum to Nairobi, and reportedly other areas in East Africa.  The same State Department information from the Embassy bombing prosecution indicates that bin Laden also sent agents to the United States, Britain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the 1990s to acquire a variety of military gear, including night vision goggles, range finders and rifles.

State has been pushing a proposal to loosen export controls over a variety of older military aircraft -- including T-39s -- through creation of a new license exemption.  The Department of Homeland Security has objected strongly to the proposal and termed it unenforceable.  Hyde said he was mystified about why State continues to push these proposals that involve high risks of diversion instead of deferring to Homeland Security’s concerns. 

In a recent Saturday radio address President Bush said, “…it is not possible to guarantee perfect security in our vast free nation, but at a time when we're at war and our margin for error is getting smaller, the consequences of underestimating a threat could be tens of thousands of innocent lives.”

There is an abundance of information about those threats, Hyde suggested, including an important study released several months ago by the National Intelligence Council, known as the “2020” project.  That study forecasts that terrorists will continue to rely primarily on conventional weapons in the coming years, but will also move up the technology ladder to include advanced explosives, unmanned aerial vehicles and other items controlled on the U.S. Munitions List by State.

The State Department says in this report that it has all the authority in law that is needed to fight the war on terror in this area.  But there is no evidence that State is using its authority, the report concludes.  Four years after Ahmed Ressem (the so-called “millennium bomber”) was convicted of conspiracy to commit a terrorist act when he entered the United States from Canada with a carload of explosives destined for targets in Los Angeles, the State Department’s regulations continue to permit the temporary import into the United States by any person of any item on the U.S. Munitions List.  Similarly, with continuing concerns about the use of biological weapons, Hyde said it is not easy to understand why State’s regulations permit the transfer of biological weapons to foreign persons in the United States without requiring a munitions license.

More generally, Hyde said, it is increasingly difficult to understand why State has not even now – almost four years after 9/11 -- launched a major interagency review with U.S. law enforcement agencies to identify and target for license requirements the transfer to foreign persons in the United States of any Munitions List item known to be in demand by terrorists, such as military scuba gear and night vision equipment. 

            “The security environment we face is becoming more complex and will increasingly challenge our national security interests and the traditional safeguards we rely on to deter unauthorized transfers of U.S. weapons technology,” Hyde said.

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