Cornyn Presses Panetta on Relationship with Russian Arms Broker Supplying Assad Regime
by John Cornyn on June 12, 2012 at 4:20 AM
Monday I sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta again expressing concerns with the U.S. Government’s relationship with the Russian state-controlled arms export firm Rosoboronexport, who has for years been arming the Assad regime. I asked Secretary Panetta for a commitment that the Pentagon conduct a full and open competitive process for any future procurement of Mi-17 helicopters, which the U.S. has been buying through Rosoboronexport on a no-bid basis to equip the Afghan military. He asked for a full audit of the Pentagon’s contract with the Russian arms broker, emphasizing its importance in the context of the pending nomination of Heidi Shyu to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology.
Below is a copy of the letter to Secretary Panetta:
June 11, 2012
The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Panetta:
I write to reiterate the grave concerns I previously raised with you about the Department of Defense’s ongoing business relationship with Rosoboronexport – the Russian state-owned arms export firm that continues to transfer weapons to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. As Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James N. Miller stated in his letter to me, dated March 30, 2012, “Rosoboronexport continues to supply weapons and ammunition to the Assad regime and . . . . there is evidence that some of these arms are being used by Syrian forces against Syria’s civilian population.”
Rosoboronexport, as the Assad regime’s chief supplier of weapons, is an enabler of mass murder in Syria. Yet, in June 2011, two months after the Syrian uprising began, the DoD awarded a no-bid Army contract to Rosoboronexport for the purchase of Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan military. I remain deeply troubled that the DoD would knowingly do business with a firm that has enabled mass atrocities in Syria. Such actions by Rosoboronexport warrant the renewal of U.S. sanctions against it, not a billion-dollar DoD contract.
The DoD’s selection of the Mi-17 as the helicopter of choice for the Afghan military has created an untenable situation, because the DoD failed to consider inherent sourcing challenges with this Russian-manufactured aircraft. While I defer to the professional judgment of our uniformed military leaders regarding which helicopter best meets the requirement, I refuse to accept the DoD’s position that there are no viable alternatives to buying these aircraft through Rosoboronexport. This firm is not the manufacturer of these helicopters; it is merely a broker – a middleman.
Over the past several years, the DoD has acquired dozens of new Mi-17s for foreign militaries through commercial acquisitions from a variety of brokers. For example, in 2009, while Rosoboronexport was under U.S. sanctions, the DoD (led by the Navy) successfully procured four commercial Mi-17 helicopters through a private U.S. broker, following an open and competitive selection process. In addition, since the Mi-17 is the most proliferated military helicopter in the world, the acquisition and refurbishment of existing Mi-17s remains a viable alternative to buying new aircraft through Rosoboronexport. Yet, the DoD refuses to pursue that either.
On Feb. 3, President Obama stated that “Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. . . . and the Assad regime must come to an end.” Similarly, on April 1, the Friends of Syria group, which includes the U.S., called on the international community “to take all necessary measures to deprive the regime of the means it is using to oppress the Syrian people. In this regard, prevention of the regime’s access to arms is at the foremost.” I support the President’s call for the end of the Assad regime, as well as the goal of stopping the flow of arms to Syria. But, the DoD’s ongoing business relationship with Rosoboronexport undermines both.
The DoD has confirmed that there is an additional requirement for Afghan Mi-17s beyond those that will be procured under the current contract, and it has suggested its intention to continue no-bid contracting with Rosoboronexport. I am seriously troubled by the prospect of additional contracts with Rosoboronexport, because it would represent a complete refusal by the DoD to seek out alternatives.
Therefore, I ask for your personal commitment to ensuring the DoD conducts all future Mi-17 procurement through full and open competition. In addition, I request that you direct the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) to conduct a complete audit of the Army’s sole-source contract with Rosoboronexport, examining the financial conditions, prime contract terms, and key subcontract agreements negotiated by Rosoboronexport and the Army.
This issue is especially pertinent in light of the Senate’s consideration of the nomination of Ms. Heidi Shyu to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology. I hope to be able to support the confirmation of this nominee. Thank you for your prompt attention to this serious matter.