One of the things that the Wikileaks diplomatic cables open up to view is the complicated and shadowy world of international arms transfers--how one sale might lead to another, and then another to an unfriendly power, or how two companies from different countries might actually provide banned items to a third party. It's hardly shocking that these things happen, but it's fascinating to see how they're handled quietly though some diplomatic arm-twisting.
One State Dept. cable from March 24, 2009 titled “SHIPMENT OF UAVS FROM IRAN TO VENEZUELA” shows how tight of a lid U.S. intelligence agencies are trying to keep on the export of arms to and from nations it considers unfriendly. The report states that
Venezuelan officials expected to receive a shipment of UNMANNED aerial vehicles (UAV) and related material from Iran, via Turkey, by May 2009. As of early March, Venezuelan officials believed that the equipment would be repackaged and labeled as electronic equipment, then transported overland from Iran to Turkey. Once in Turkey, the equipment would be loaded onto a maritime vessel for continued shipment to Venezuela. The U.S. believes this shipment constitutes arms and related materiel, which Iran is prohibited from transferring pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1747, paragraph 5.
In January 2009, acting on another tip from U.S. officials, the Turkish government stopped an Iranian attempt to ship drums of nitrate and sulphite chemicals and dismantled laboratory instruments to Venezuela, by shipping them through Turkey.
Another State Dept. cable from Sept. 16 2009 details American concerns that the French firm Sofradir and its subsidiary Ulis “continue to sell cooled and uncooled infrared detectors to a Chinese firm for incorporation into thermal imaging systems.” The cable requests that the French government be made aware of this activity and “act immediately to terminate this activity by Sofradir and Ulis so China cannot use French components to manufacture weapons systems and sell them to Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism.”
We believe the Chinese firm, Zhejiang Dali Technology Company Ltd, is actively selling its thermal imaging systems to Iranian defense entities. Iranian military access to Chinese thermal imaging systems that rely on high-grade French infrared detectors could increase the threat to US and allied forces operating in the Gulf region.
There is no doubt much more in the files pertaining to weapons or potential weapon-making material that is currently switching hands—or trying to switch hands—in the global marketplace, and we’ll pass it along as we can dig it up.