By Norm Dixon
The claim that Iraq was developing a nuclear weapons capability and ballistic missile technology was one of the major justifications for the US-led war in the Gulf. Yet it has been revealed that the US government turned a blind eye as similar technology was transferred to South Africa in contravention of US export laws and the international arms embargo of South Africa.
According to a London Financial Times-US ABC team of investigative reporters, the transfers occurred between 1984 and 1988 with the knowledge of the Central Intelligence Agency. Ironically, some of this sensitive technology was then redirected from South Africa to Iraq. An account of the investigation was published in a recent edition of the Johannesburg-based Southern Africa Report.
The shipments were first made by a Pennsylvania-based electronics company, International Signal and Control (ISC), and they continued after the company was bought by the British defence contractor, Ferranti, in 1987.
The equipment included material which could be used to develop a missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads, photo-imaging equipment for determining the performance of missile tests and gyroscopes used in inertial navigation or guidance systems.
Advanced radar-controlled anti-aircraft systems were shipped to South Africa. South Africa, together with ISC, also developed a sophisticated ground-to-air missile for its own use and for export.
All this equipment was restricted US technology requiring export licences, which were not obtained. James Guerin, the owner of ISC, who became deputy chairperson of Ferranti, claims the company's activities were sanctioned by the US government.
The investigators reported that Guerin set up a front company with the South African authorities for the US National Security Agency, as part of a US covert operation in 1974. This involved shipping advanced electronic sensors, optics and related equipment to South Africa without licences so as to set up listening posts to track Soviet submarines off the Cape of Good Hope.
This company, Gamma Systems Associates, ordered restricted equipment from ISC, then shipped it on to South Africa on board airliners. The equipment was repackaged and the airline companies given false descriptions of the equipment. The operation
ceased to have official sanction in 1977.
Despite this, between 1982 and 1988 Gamma continued to ship electronics for ISC to South Africa when Pretoria, in partnership with Israel, was developing a long-range ballistic missile.
In 1984, the investigators report, Guerin offered to work directly for the CIA. Then almost weekly shipments of sensitive equipment necessary for the construction of long-range ballistic missiles began to flow to South Africa on a route identical to the original channel. Customers included the South African state arms company, Armscor, for whom Guerin acted as consultant in 1977.
In July 1989, Armscor tested a ballistic missile with a range of 1400 kilometres. Ten years before, satellites recorded a "double flash" in the Indian Ocean. This is suspected to have been a joint South African-Israeli nuclear test.