The Jordanian Arms Theft Story

The NYT has a blockbuster story reporting that Jordanian officers have been stealing weapons “shipped into Jordan” by CIA, and selling them on the black market. Some of these weapons were used to kill two American contractors at a training facility in November.

Weapons shipped into Jordan by the Central Intelligence Agency and Saudi Arabia intended for Syrian rebels have been systematically stolen by Jordanian intelligence operatives and sold to arms merchants on the black market, according to American and Jordanian officials.

Some of the stolen weapons were used in a shooting in November that killed two Americans and three others at a police training facility in Amman, F.B.I. officials believe after months of investigating the attack, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The existence of the weapons theft, which ended only months ago after complaints by the American and Saudi governments, is being reported for the first time after a joint investigation by The New York Times and Al Jazeera.

I’m still trying to figure out what to make of this story, so for the moment, I just want to unpack it.

First, consider the players. The story is sourced to US and Jordanian “officials,” (a term which can sometimes mean contractors or Members of Congress). The CIA and FBI both refused to comment for the story; the State Department and Jordan’s press people both gave fluff statements.

The story is a joint project — between Qatar’s media outlet, Al-Jazeera (here’s their link to the story), and the “official press” of the US, the NYT. So Americans, Jordanians, and Qataris were involved in this story.

But no Saudis, in spite of the fact that the story reports that Saudis apparently complained some months ago.

The story seems to suggest that after a Jordanian police official who had just been fired for reasons not yet made public and presumably had his official weapon confiscated went and got this one — it’s not clear whether he purchased it or got it some other way — and killed five (including two American DynCorp contractors) and injured seven others. As part of the FBI investigation, the story suggests, they traced the serial number of the Kalashnikov the killer used to a shipment directly tied to the CIA.

American and Jordanian officials said the investigators believed that the weapons that a Jordanian police captain, Anwar Abu Zaid, used to gun down two Jordanians, two American contractors and one South African had originally arrived in Jordan intended for the Syrian rebel-training programme.

The officials said this finding had come from tracing the serial numbers of the weapons.

Apparently parallel to that investigation, Jordanians have had rumors of the theft for some time.

Word that the weapons intended for the rebels were being bought and sold on the black market leaked into Jordan government circles last year, when arms dealers began bragging to their customers that they had large stocks of US- and Saudi-provided weapons.

Jordanian intelligence operatives monitoring the arms market – operatives not involved in the weapons-diversion scheme – began sending reports to headquarters about a proliferation of weapons in the market and of the boasts of the arms dealers.

Here’s the thing. The article says the theft and sale of the arms has led to a flood of new weapons on the black market.

The theft and resale of the arms – including Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades – have led to a flood of new weapons available on the black arms market.

Investigators do not know what became of most of them, but a disparate collection of groups, including criminal networks and rural Jordanian tribes, use the arms bazaars to build their arsenals.

Perhaps that’s true within Jordan. But the weapons came from the black market in the first place — from the Balkans and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the story claims. If these weapons did come from Eastern Europe, what has really happened is that the US and Saudis have transported weapons to Jordan, only to have them appear back on the black market there, with some cash in the pockets of some Jordanian officers.

And after the Americans and Saudis complained, there was a crack down with no real consequences for those involved.

Jordanian officials who described the operation said it had been run by a group of GID logistics officers with direct access to the weapons once they reached Jordan. The officers regularly siphoned truckloads of the weapons from the stocks, before delivering the rest of the weapons to designated drop-off points.

Then the officers sold the weapons at several large arms markets in Jordan.

[snip]

It is unclear whether the current head of the GID, General Faisal al-Shoubaki, had knowledge of the theft of the CIA and Saudi weapons. But several Jordanian intelligence officials said senior officers inside the service had knowledge of the weapons scheme and provided cover for the lower-ranking officers.

[snip]

After the Americans and Saudis complained about the theft, investigators at the GID arrested several dozen officers involved in the scheme, among them a lieutenant colonel running the operation. They were ultimately released from detention and fired from the service, but were allowed to keep their pensions and money they gained from the scheme, according to Jordanian officials.

One more point: the story notes that Obama authorized this program, which the story reveals is called Timber Sycamore, in 2013. It says it is run by the US and several Arab intelligence programs, but neglects to mention Qatar is a key player.

Now, it is true, as far as we know, that official covert CIA involvement started in 2013. But the program dates back earlier, to 2011, with the CIA watching the Saudis and Qataris funnel weapons from Libya to Syria in conjunction with the Benghazi attack. The US got more involved in 2013, in part, to try to put some order to the program. You know: to ensure that weapons got to the people we wanted them to get to?

And here were learn — because a Jordanian officer gone back shot up the training program one day — that at least some of those weapons weren’t actually going where they were supposed to?

Update: Moon of Alabama offers his take.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

24 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    .
    I’m wondering if at least some of the problem stems from a huge imbalance between the volume of weapons that was approved for the program (and calculated in part on what it would take to beat Assad) compared to the scarcity of “moderate” rebels to give them to. When massive numbers of arms build up and just sit in warehouses, leaks to black markets seem inevitable.
    .
    So even though the CIA claimed they were getting receipts for the weapons they gave out (https://www.emptywheel.net/2013/09/13/us-never-mind-that-guy-eating-a-heart-we-have-handwritten-receipts-for-the-guns/), weapons they didn’t retrieve from the warehouse were perhaps not accounted for. Of course, all of the parties involved here are known to lie freely, so getting to any real truth on this is impossible.

  2. lefty665 says:

    “with the CIA watching the Saudis and Qataris funnel weapons from Libya to Syria in conjunction with the Benghazi attack. ”
    .
    In addition to eastern European purchases, the CIA had a warehouse in Benghazi where they were amassing ex-Ghaddafi weapons, purchased on the local black market, to send to “moderates” in Syria. Our ambassador was apparently there to arrange shipping. I don’t doubt the Saudis and Qataris were involved, but CIA and State were committed.
    .
    The question the Repubs don’t seem to want to ask is what Stevens and the CIA were doing in Benghazi. US Gov’t supplying arms to Al Qaeda, the people who attacked us on 9/11, or it’s local operations, Al Nusra in Syria, seems like treason.

    • emptywheel says:

      The way the CIA (and Petraeus) explained this to Congress is CIA was just watching the Saudis and Qataris run those arms. They weren’t involved, honest!

  3. martin says:

    I have a mental picture of the US taxpayer. He’s hog tied and bent over, while Congress, the DOD, and the IC take turns butt fucking him, all the while cackling.

  4. bevin says:

    ” a Jordanian officer gone back ” fixable? It doesn’t matter but…

    I’m with “b” on this one. All these stories about ‘moderate rebels’ their adventures and travails are baloney.
    Let us cut out the nonsense: the US government is supplying anyone claiming to oppose Syria, indeed, any of a long list of governments with delusions of sovereignty, with weapons, money, munitions, and up to the minute intelligence on Syrian forces’ movements.
    Stories like this one simply suggest that something is due to happen: my guess is that half of the weapons in question went to ISIS and this is to pre-empt a Press Conference in Moscow, complete with captured weapons, accusing the CIA of directly supplying both Al Nusra and their ally, ISIS.

  5. What Constitution? says:

    Benghazi! They said Benghazi! BENGHAZI !!

    I recently have noticed that Brexit also starts with a B, just like BENGHAZI !!

  6. wayoutwest says:

    Marcy, I wonder where you got the idea that these weapons were bought on the black market in eastern Europe. It seems more likely they were bought from some of the many arms manufactures or brokers that exist there and are closely linked to those governments. These are shipload sized quantities of weapons not truckloads sold in dark alleys.

    The Moonies and others will spin this exposure of the inevitable syphoning off of some of these weapons to the arms trade in the ME as another ‘proof’ that the US is intentionally arming Nusra or the IS but they only fool themselves and others inclined to believe nonsense.

    • stan says:

      — “These are shipload sized quantities of weapons not truckloads sold in dark alleys.”

      Now, where would shipload sized quantities of weapons possibly come from? The USA? No way.

      And given the US used to brag about their arms donations to Al Qaeda, and even distributed a Tom Hanks movie about it, there is no reason to believe the US would intentionally arm Nusra or ISIS. Only a moonie would come up with a hair brained scheme like that, or maybe an American Patriot.

      • wayoutwest says:

        You seem to be confusing the small Arab group AQ with the very large groups of Afghans the ISI armed and trained with US funds and supplies during that Afghan war. The character Hanks portrayed never set foot in Afghanistan and neither did US operatives except two near the end of the war, the ISI handled the training and arming of the Afghan fighters with funding from the US but there is no verified reports of any contact or cooperation with AQ who were mostly funded with OBL’s own wealth and Saudi assistance. The only indirect US funding I could find was a contract between OBL’s construction company and the ISI to build training bases in Pakistan and this was before AQ was formed.

        I ‘m not sure where the huge amount of arms for the Afghan fighters was sourced but China was also arming and training Afghans to fight the Russians.

        A few months ago there was a report about the USG putting out shipping requests to contract two ships to transport these weapons we’re discussing and it was all above board so the suppliers are probably legal arms dealers or manufacturers.

        • stan says:

          Yes, I was confused. Thanks for clearing that up. I suddenly recall they were branded with the Freedom Fighter and Mujahideen trademarks, not Al Qaeda. Because you have not verified reports of any contact or cooperation with AQ, who were allegedly and mostly funded with former CIA contractor OBL’s own wealth and by the The House of Saud’s — that other US ally — there could not have been any. Certainly, all CIA rat lines are above board when patriots say so. And if Charlie Wilson never went to Afghanistan to personally vet his business partners that’s good enough for me. My mistake. But there is this wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Wilson_(Texas_politician) with a picture of him in Afghanistan. I know wikipedia is censored so I think it could have been taken in some other locale.

          Keep putting out those reports; they’re full of veracity.

    • Tom in AZ says:

      Well, I wondered when your constant trolling nonsense would show up at Marcy’s place. You have been polluting MofA for a long time, so much you are a running joke. Save us all the wasted time and shut up.

  7. Bardi says:

    I remember the pictures of McCain and Hunter, as well as a few others, posing for pictures with Syrian “rebels”, of those pictured rebels, a few ended up being identified as “terrorists”, whatever that means anymore.

  8. Les says:

    I thought we sold Saudi Arabia the TOW anti-tank missiles that the CIA is training the Syrian rebels in.

    There was an article on Timber Sycamore earlier this year which had a short paragraph about Qatar hosting a CIA rebel training base.

    I thought the other thing that stood out is that this article made no attempt to distance itself from ISIS. The CIA was training all rebels.

  9. wayoutwest says:

    I could be mistaken but there is no location data for those photos and Wilson only speaks of visiting refugee camps in Pakistan in the text. The ISI could have slipped him into a village near the border for a visit but he nor the CIA was operating in Afghanistan but the ISI certainly was.

    AQ had almost nothing to do with the defeat of Russia in Afghanistan and only became AQ near the end of the war, OBL was involved in one major battle. The House of Saud helped OBL with bringing other fighters to Afghanistan to get the hotheads out of SA and when they returned as heroes that lasted about a year when they were invited to leave and soon after OBL was stripped of his citizenship and family funding. This was because of the Saudi decision to invite the Infidel US Military into the county and is the reason that AQ’s main goal is still the overthrow of the House of Saud.

    • Mooniestan says:

      I thought the ISI was one the funnels through which US arms made their way to Afghanistan. No matter. If Wilson was photographed in Pakistan instead of Afghanistan your claim the US was never OBL’s patron is further reinforced. Again, my mistake. It was facile and sloppy thinking to assume reports of OBL-ISI-CIA links were not just nutty conspiracy theory, given all reports of those links have been indisputably refuted by the uncorrupted wikipedia of record, and given other precedents, such as the US’ history of sage ally selecion: The House of Saud, Saddam Hussein, Reza Pahlavi, Pinochet, M. Noriega, Rios Montt, D’Aubuisson, Papa & Baby Doc, F. Marcos, Diem, Thieu, … There are too many to list here, but the pattern does hint at the wisdom of US statesmanship. A wisdom that just keeps getting wiser. I humbly defer.

      I was sure OBL was on the payroll for some period during the 1980s, then as you say, laid off — deemed bad for business by The House when it invited the USAF to set up a real shop in Medina, close to the Vatican. (Sorry, I could be wrong about the Vatican being in Mecca. I’m a heathen who confuses Christianity with Islam now and then.)

      While I’m on the subject of business I’ll indulge in a non-sequitor to express why I’m in such a state of awe. Helping out the Muj was all about business — the business of putting the competition out of it. It worked, and the world is so much better off without that silly constraint on the US’ crack realpolitik guild. The invasion of Iraq for no reason at all was brilliant, the payoff substantial. On the altruistic side, millions were liberated from dull lives and a few can even afford to holiday in Calais. And speaking of broken constrainsts, the fall of the Soviet Union also allowed that other paradigm of efficiency and transparency — the US financial industry — to show everyone what they’re capable of when communist regs like Glass-Steagall were ditched and magic hands were ungloved. Good stuff.

      We’re all better off. Not just you. Thanks.

      • Adam Smith says:

        I would be impressed too if laborers could procure work permits and cross oceans in several hundred milliseconds.

      • wayoutwest says:

        Thanks for the kind words, Moon and especially for verifying something I suspected but none of the adherents to this nonsense ever admitted before. Packing the US and AQ tightly under your tinfoil hats is a required dogma because there is still much butt-hurt paining these poor souls because they believe the US brought down the USSR and that their defeat in Afghanistan was a major cause. The USSR did created some restrictions on the expansion of the hegemon but not where it really counted.

        The US pressured the Soviets militarily and economically but it was Russian Party members who dismantled the USSR because they wanted to become filthy rich capitalist pigs and many of them made that transition smoothly using their old commie corruption to facilitate their new capitalist corruption.

        Another way to view the cause of the rise of Political Islam is that the Russian invasion of Afghanistan was the catalyst that not only enraged the Afghan tribes but drew in the Arab Islamists to organize and fight the godless commies. They had help from the US and KSA but also from China and even Iran but only the US and the Saudis are held responsible by the Moonies and others, I wonder why?

        The House of Saud certainly bears responsibility for the rise of AQ but they quickly learned it was a bad investment and they have been paying for that miscalculation for years.

        • Tom in AZ says:

          And, just as in Syria. the then USSR was invited in by the government at the time. Syria invited Russia, since they have had a defense treaty with them for decades. And no, the Russians did not invade Ukraine. Spouting off some half-truth crap while thinking you can slide the big lie by us dolts doesn’t work for more than about two days, on any site you infest. It must be good money to keep you moving around spreading crap.

          Sorry, Marcy and everyone else. Ths clown irks the hell out of me. Unlike the lunatics on Yahoo message boards, this guy always shows up on places the have credibility and are trying to get to the truth. His modus operandi is to deflect that from happening. Why, or for who, I don’t know.

  10. Vickie Maynard says:

    War machines a president already warned American people about before he left office

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