Identity crisis? Iranians avid shoppers of US army gear
Every type of equipment the U.S. military has at its disposal is on sale at the Gomrok bazaar in south Tehran’s Razi Square, the merchants say, and The Daily Star has found evidence that they could be telling the truth.
“We can get anything that the U.S. Army has now from a supplier in Afghanistan within two weeks,” one trader said.
“We’ve sold every U.S. Army product from women’s underwear to arms in this bazaar,” he said.
Another merchant said he was trying to sell a Boeing Apache helicopter, while a third laid out night-vision equipment.
The merchants who spoke about illicit trade in weapons said they did not want to be identified for fear of arrest by the Iranian police. They said such arms were usually only shown and sold to representatives of the Iranian military. The traders would not allow any items whose sale is illegal in Iran to be photographed.
But they allowed The Daily Star to photograph products that were more innocuous and on public display and for sale in their shops.
The items bear American brand labels that together read like a list of U.S. Department of Defense basic equipment and apparel contractors.
The contract numbers and other information on the packaging and labels match up with public government records, and representatives of two manufacturers said photographs appeared to show that the items were authentic.
Sharon Ward, the director of public and media relations at Pelican Products, said one photograph showed what was “certainly” a tool case manufactured by her firm, and released in August 2011.
Several merchants at the bazaar had around 30 of such cases for sale, each containing an Armstrong General Mechanics Tool Kit.
Similar tool kits retail brand new at Armstrong’s website for more than $5,000, but the asking price at the bazaar was consistently around $1,000.
One trader allowed The Daily Star to photograph kits that were still wrapped in orange rice bags, saying his supplier used such ruses to smuggle items over the border into Iran.
A representative of Danner said a pair of boots also looked genuine.
“The Danner boots pictured here appear to be authentic, but without having them in hand it is difficult to verify,” Will Pennartz, senior marketing manager at Danner, said of photographs from the bazaar.
The labels of the supposed Danner combat hiker boots on sale at the bazaar bear the CAGE code number 63887. A CAGE code, or Commercial and Government Entity code, is a unique five-digit number issued by the Defense Logistics Information Service to firms doing business with the Department of Defense.
The number 63887 matches the CAGE code assigned to Danner.
The shoes are also stamped with the contract number GS-07F-0077H.
That contract number is the same as one listed on several orders that Danner delivered for the Department of Defense.
The Daily Star confirmed that dozens of identifying numbers on items being sold at the bazaar match up with information on actual contracts that are viewable in U.S. government databases.
Other matching numbers can be found on documents or press releases on the websites of the U.S. Army and Department of Defense.
For example, the Manufacturer’s Part Number and National Stock Number on Revision Sawfly eyewear kits are the same as those listed on a 2011 fact sheet on authorized spectacles posted at the U.S. Army’s official website.
The Daily Star sent photographs of the eyewear at the bazaar to Revision Military and got the following response from Gregory Maguire, the company’s senior director of legal and government affairs: “We do not permit our products to be sold in Iran, as this would violate U.S. law. We cannot confirm that what is pictured is our product, much less who may have brought such product into Iran. However, in light of the allegations, which we take seriously, we have forwarded your email to the U.S. Department of State. We would appreciate any other information you may have regarding the source, as this would be material to such an investigation.”
It is unclear whether Revision Military would take the matter so seriously if the packages, each of which is also stamped with two bar codes, appeared to be obvious fakes.
At the bazaar near Razi Square, which is more commonly referred to as Gomrok or Customs Square, around 50 shops are selling what they say are American military items, alongside an array of other products imported from around the world.
Throughout the market, Iranian hawkers extoll the value of products they say were made in the USA, including Altama boots, CamelBak gloves and hydration packs, Picket Hosiery Mills socks, Eureka! tents, Soffe T-shirts and Surefire flashlights.
“Anyone who buys these American Army products is so satisfied because they’re of such high quality and at such a good price,” one trader said.
Government records show that all of the same American companies have fulfilled contracts with the Department of Defense as early as 2003 and as recently as 2013.
Many of the contracts were awarded by the Defense Logistics Agency, which handles the acquisition and distribution of supplies to troops for the U.S. Department of Defense.
When sent the photographs of the items, the DLA’s spokesperson, Michelle McCaskill issued the following statement to The Daily Star: “The Defense Logistics Agency would need additional information in order to properly comment.”
George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, also said he could not comment “on what may allegedly be taking place in Iran.”
The Iranian military could not be reached for comment.
Despite efforts to trace the items, it remains unclear how they could have ended up in the Gomrok bazaar.
Some of the older merchandise could have been among the billions of dollars worth of equipment that U.S. troops left behind when they withdrew from Iraq, while newer products might be items that the Army is unloading as it pulls out of Afghanistan.
The merchants say they have suppliers in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait.
One trader said some items were part of the booty captured by militants in Afghanistan and brought into Iran.
“Some parties, such as Taliban in Afghanistan, are capturing containers and selling the goods,” he said.
The trader who claimed he was selling an Apache would not reveal where it came from, but he did offer the following clue: “I can get it to the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, but after that it’s the buyer’s responsibility to get it out.”
By: Kristin Dalley