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This month we add a new column on national security and intelligence issues, authored by Joe Trento.  Mr. Trento has spent more than 35 years as an investigative journalist, working with both print and broadcast outlets and writing extensively on national security issues. Before joining the National Security News Service in 1991, Trento worked for CNN's  Special Assignment Unit, the Wilmington News Journal, and prominent journalist Jack Anderson. Trento has received six Pulitzer nominations and is the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Secret History of the CIAWe welcome Mr. Trento as a featured columnist.


Another Failed Attempt to Gag The Arms Dealer Who Supplied Saddam

by Joe Trento


Miami – Sarkis Soghanalian was once the most powerful arms dealer in the world. Filled with charm, able to communicate in eight languages, Soghanalian had one weakness – he liked to speak to reporters. A few weeks ago I went into the Perdue rehabilitation center in South Miami to reconnect with the arms dealer. Even sick with diabetes and unable to walk, Soghanalian still scares the hell out of the Bush family and their business associates


He had come to Miami on an expired Green Card (his ex-wife is an American). The Green Card expired because the 77-year-old gun runner had been in a hospital bed in Jordan for most of the last year and could not return to the U.S. to renew the card. He had called me and said he had some important material for the FBI on stolen art from Iraq and wanted to come home for medical treatment. My colleague David Armstrong and I were assured by various authorities that there were no warrants outstanding and he would be allowed to come unmolested.

He, of course, was arrested for the Green Card violation as soon as the plane arrived. The FBI agents he was working with were transferred off the case and a new agent, named Ron LeBlanc made it clear to his colleagues Soghanalian was a bad guy and that he, Le Blanc, was going to arrange an extradition to Colombia because of an old arms deal that had gone wrong.


Soghanalian was dumped at his son’s house and, with the help of family and friends, ended up as an indigent at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Agent LeBlanc had succeeded in convincing colleagues not to work with Soghanalian. He also thought he had the arms dealer thoroughly isolated from the media.


I first developed a relationship with Soghanlian in 1984 when I was with CNN. The result was a documentary called “Merchants of War.” I personally witnessed Soghanalian arm Saddam Hussein with the full knowledge and cooperation of the Reagan and the George H. W. Bush Administration. He was our main conduit to arming Saddam during the 1980’s. He was also a longtime Defense Intelligence Agency asset. His former control officer, retired Colonel Joseph Hunt, once described the roly-poly dealer as “one of our most important intelligence assets.”


Soghanalian has also had a long relationship with the CIA, working with one of their brightest (now retired) officers, Lou Severe. His poorest relationship was with Customs and Immigration, now known as ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). He had been instructed by his bosses in the Reagan White House not to do business with Customs. The Miami office of Customs, now ICE, has been angry with Soghanalian ever since he refused to help them by becoming a snitch concerning other CIA front companies.

In 1984 former Nixon officials (including John Mitchell, Spiro Agnew and others) forced the arms dealer to put them in business selling military uniforms to Saddam. If Sarkis didn’t throw the uniform business their way, he was told he would not get export licenses to provide the helicopters the Reagan Administration wanted sent to arm Saddam. Even Richard Nixon, wrote letters of endorsement of the deal. The $450 million dollar deal produced shoddy uniforms Saddam refused to pay for. Soghanalian was sued in civil court by these former public servants. After Soghanalian beat the businessmen in civil court, the arms dealer found he was being targeted by his old associates through the administration of George H.W.Bush. When Soghanlian began sharing details with ABC’s Nightline, of how the Reagan/Bush team had aided Saddam through the 80’s as the 1991 Gulf War loomed, the hammer fell on Soghanalian. In the early 1990’s the first Bush Administration orchestrated a prosecution of Soghanalian for delivering weapons on his private 727 to Iraq. One of the key witnesses standing by to testify against him was former Marine Colonel Jack Brennan, then a Bush I White House aide. Brennan had been a key partner in the uniform deal. The case was political. Bush was running for reelection and the Iraqgate scandal was engulfing him.


Bush I appointees in Miami indicted and convicted Soghanalian. That resulted in a six-year federal prison sentence and an attempt by the Bush Administration to cut Soghanalian off from all media contact while in the Federal prison system. But even in jail the arms dealer had bombs to throw. He told me in an interview for British television that Mark Thatcher (son of the Prime Minister) had profited from dealing classified night vision devices to Saddam’s government. That resulted in a major scandal in England. George H. W. Bush’s defeat gave Soghanalian a chance to show the Clinton Administration - what he could do about its $100 bill counterfeiting problem. He was so successful in his work with the Secret Service that his jail sentence suddenly ended and he was back in business in time for the 1995 Paris Air Show. Working with France, Soghanalian was involved in deals around the world, including Saudi Arabia.


Sarkis Soghanalian and his former assistant Veronique Paquier at the Paris Air Show 1997.












In 1995 while on a visit to Los Angeles Soghanalian was approached by an associate of now infamous Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. That meeting resulted in a previously unreported FBI investigation of a top Republican member of the House of Representatives and his wife. A two-year off and on FBI investigation followed. Soghanalian was promised that sanctions against Iraq would be lifted—allowing Soghanalian to be paid—in exchange for a huge payment to self-proclaimed surrogates of the politician. The investigation was stopped at the highest levels in the FBI during the Clinton impeachment proceedings. The main target of the probe left elective political life with no evidence collected that he had done anything illegal. According to the prosecutor in charge there were very hard feelings against Soghanalian for his role in starting the investigation. According to federal agents involved in the case the FBI leadership stopped the case before evidence could be collected on the politician.


In 1997 this reporter learned from Soghanalian that the Chinese and French were breaking a UN arms embargo and shipping C-802 cruise missiles that were nuclear capable to Iran. Soghanalian offered a sample of one of the missiles to the CIA through a U.S. Naval officer. The CIA declined the offer and claimed it had its own sources for such equipment. It turned out that the CIA’s so called source, not only didn’t deliver but top officials in the company became fugitives. The CIA never got a C 802 and the Navy never got an opportunity to study the advanced missile so it could develop a defense. Navy officials were so concerned about the C-802 they concluded in 1997 in classified documents obtained by National Security News Service that the missile gave Iran “effective control of the Persian Gulf.” Iran bought the missiles as a response to the United States shooting down a civilian Airbus and then lying about it.

In October of 2000, 17 sailors were killed when the USS Cole was attacked with a small boat supposedly filled with explosives. Soghanalian angered U.S. government officials when he suggested that the damage to the ship looked as if had been caused by the kind of shaped charge used on a seagoing cruise missile.


In December 2000, as George W. Bush administration was about to start, Soghanalian was rearrested coming home through Miami from Paris. His practice of sharing embarrassing details about his relationship with the U.S. government and money hungry former public servants loyal to both Presidents Bush have come at inopportune times and made lots of enemies. That arrest kept him in jail over a year on charges he had attempted to cash a forged cashiers check. On a visit to the Federal lock up in Los Angeles Soghanalian told me that he was responsible for a very embarrassing CIA sanctioned arms deal that demonstrated that the CIA’s main asset in Peru was actually selling guns to the wrong side in Colombia (The FARC). The story appeared in La Republica and Soghanalian’s confession caused the government of Peru to fall and the famous Chief of Peruvian intelligence to briefly become a fugitive. The Bush Administration decided it might be best to allow Soghanalian to settle in Jordan and forget about his jail sentence.


The old arms dealer fell on hard times in Jordan and his fast life style caught up with him. He still helped the FBI on nuclear weapons matters, but in Jordan he had accumulated a lot of information about Saddam’s effort’s to negotiate prior to the U.S. invasion for our latest war in Iraq.


So on a pleasant mid-April Saturday morning I went back to Purdue with some television gear to interview Soghanalain. The day before I had walked into his room and was permitted to interview him for hours unchallenged. This morning was different. I was stopped by the receptionist and then questioned by the assistant director. Terry Reardon, who is the director at Perdue, got on the phone from home, and said I need to fill out paperwork to get permission to interview the arms dealer. I asked for the paperwork to fill out. She refused to give it to me, saying it would not be available until after the weekend. Her assistant finally allowed me to set up and interview Soghanalian on camera from 1pm to 4pm. I continued the interviews the next day but off camera. I left Miami Monday morning. Unknown to me a firestorm began when ICE representatives told Purdue officials the interviews should have never been allowed.


ICE took Soghanalian from his bed at Perdue a few days latter saying he was being taken to Jackson Memorial for a serious diagnostic workup. Instead, Soghanalian was taken to the infamous Krome Service and Processing Center. Krome is one of the most brutal deportation centers the Department of Homeland Security operates. Soghanalian, who cannot walk and cannot go to the bathroom on his own, told his son a few days later that no one had helped him with basic physical needs and his sanitary situation was a nightmare.


As of this writing Soghanalian is still in Krome and officials of Homeland Security are not talking about the case.


We will begin posting segments of Soghanalian’s last interview with me in the coming weeks. The old man still has access to a lethal arsenal of embarrassing information.



Image and Text Copyright © 2003-2005 Public Education Center, Inc. All rights reserved.  Republished herein with the author's consent.



Posted  June 01, 2005

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