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Justice Probes Document Alterations in Sales to Iraq

By Douglas Frantz
and Murray Waas

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

The Department of Justice is investigating allegations that Bush administration officials altered records sent to Congress to disguise shipment of technology with military uses to Iraq, according to interviews and documents.

The investigation is trying to determine which officials were responsible for deleting military designations on some of the administration-approved export licenses and whether the changes violated federal law, two sources said.

Congress requested the list as part of its examination of administration policies that allowed Iraq to buy high-tech American goods, some of which were used to build Saddam Hussein's military power. The deletion of some military descriptions meant that Congress did not get an accurate picture of the material licensed for sale.

The information was compiled from data at the Department of Commerce, which regulates export of sensitive technology.

Two officials at the National Security Council supervised the compilation and production of the records for a House investigative committee last year, said two administration officials familiar with the preparation of the material. The NSC was one of the agencies that implemented the Reagan administration policy of increasing sales to Iraq in the 1980s.

The sources said they were aware of no evidence that the NSC officials participated in the alterations, and no one has been accused of wrongdoing.

A confidential internal Department of Commerce memo indicates that high-ranking officials at the department and the White House provided guidance in the preparation of the list for Congress, but the memo does not discuss any alterations to the list or name any officials.

The investigation centers on export licenses for the sale of $1.5 bill ion worth of high-tech goods to Iraq between 1985 and 1990. Rep. Doug Barnard (D-Ga.), chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee on commerce, consumer, and monetary affairs, sought a list of the licenses last year as part of an inquiry into whether lax controls during the Reagan and Bush administrations allowed Iraq to obtain U.S. technology used in developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Alterations to entries were discovered after the Department of Commerce turned over the list, and Barnard complained.

An internal investigation by the department's inspector general found alterations on 68 of the 771 licenses on the list, according to a copy of the report. After removing evidence of military uses and making other changes to entries on the list, the report said the permanent files at the Department of Commerce also were altered.

The most serious example cited in the report involved changing the description on licenses for $1 billion worth of trucks from "vehicles designed for military use" to "commercial utility cargo trucks" or simply "vehicles."

In another instance, an exporter added a written notice to a license cautioning that sensitive technology was being shipped to an Iraqi user "involved in military matters," but the phrase was cut from the document sent to Congress.

After receiving the inspector general's findings last summer, Barnard asked the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation. Noting that the inspector general had not mentioned potential criminal conduct, Barnard said, "I believe that it is a crime to knowingly supply false information to Congress."