US State department cables released by WikiLeaks have provided dramatic revelations, often stemming from information contained in a few cables. However, the bulk of the archive consists of routine reports. These reports allow us to examine how the US implements specific foreign policy programs through its diplomatic missions.

One such program — “Blue Lantern” — provides end-use monitoring of items on the United States Munitions List. Such items range from those with broad civilian uses, such as gyroscopes, to significant military equipment such as tanks and aircraft.

Listed equipment is usually bought via intermediaries. For example, the cables document the purchase of night vision equipment by the New Zealand Police, sourced from Norway via an Australian company. The company exporting the item must obtain a licence, documenting the chain of consignees as well as the intended use by the recipient.

The cables provide startling details of frequent — and sometimes successful — attempts to circumvent export regulations.

End-use checks sometimes detect issues before the items have been shipped. It was found that a former Thai naval officer signed a fraudulent government end-use document, having entered employment with a private defence company. A Paraguayan business was discovered to be operating from a household containing a vast collection of un-inventoried weapons, likely to be supplied to drug and arms traffickers.

However, the problems discovered after the fact are far more worrying. Spare parts for the Chinook helicopter (operated by Iran) were delivered to a non-existent employee of a major defence contractor in Italy, vanishing untraceably. Helicopters originally sold to the Israeli government were demilitarised and exported to Colombia on false documents. These helicopters were then used to move cash and valuables for a suspected money launderer with ties to paramilitaries.

One cable documents suspicions — apparently ignored — that weapons were sold to the United Arab Emirates for hunting use by the President’s son. Controlled night-vision sniper equipment was found on sale to the Japanese public via the internet. Thailand was found to be trading longan fruit for military vehicles.

The interests of US companies can conflict with rigorous end-use checks. One cable indicates an investigation into unauthorised modification of Humvee vehicles by the Greek military was conducted with “sensitivity” in order to avoid endangering future orders.

The link between the US government and US commercial interests is not unknown to their foreign competitors. A French company selling military robotics refused to provide its client list for fear that it would be passed to US companies, alleging that this had previously occurred.

According to the cables, the Australian Department of Defence routinely co-operates with the Blue Lantern program. The Defence Export Control Office (DECO) checks for “derogatory information”, and provides details of previously issued export licences, listing the overseas entities Australian defence contractors do business with.

Crikey contacted the Department of Defence to inquire under what authority this data access is provided, and what confidentiality Australian companies might expect when seeking an export licence. A government spokesperson responded only that the Australian government will not provide commentary on documents published by WikiLeaks.

An Australian defence procurer contacted by Crikey was unaware that information about their company had been passed by DECO to the US State Department, but was not concerned that it had. They did indicate displeasure that the information had been leaked and is now widely available.

This article lists only some examples of the widespread circumvention of US export regulations documented in the cable archive. Many Western nations — including Australia — export arms within a similar framework. The cable archive provided by WikiLeaks has shown the questionable effectiveness of such frameworks in controlling the proliferation of weaponry. Change is required if governments are serious about minimising unintended harm from this deadly trade.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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