Printed government materials sought by federal agents in a raid on a Costa Mesa aeronautics firm "fit in with South Africa's drive to manufacture as much of their military requirements as they can," despite a U.S. arms embargo, an African affairs specialist said.
J. Reed Kramer, managing editor of Africa News, an information and research organization specializing in sub-Saharan Africa, said flight manuals, technical drawings and specifications believed seized in the raid Saturday on Newport Aeronautical Sales in Costa Mesa and the home of the firm's head, George M. Posey III, could be valuable aids to the South African government.
Kramer said the Pretoria regime "wants to be as self-sufficient as it can" in military areas. Such technical information, he said in a telephone interview, "could be of help to their design people. It might even be of specific use if what they're building is based very closely on a U.S. piece of equipment."
Dozens of Agents
Armed with search warrants, dozens of FBI agents and U.S. Customs Service agents descended on the firm's office and on Posey's Costa Mesa home Saturday. They declined to discuss the nature of the government's investigation with reporters.
On Sunday, FBI officials in Washington and Los Angeles issued a terse "no comment" beyond confirming that the raid had taken place. No one was arrested in the raid, but boxes of materials were removed from the Brioso Drive office of the company, which sells military equipment data to contractors and foreign governments.
The investigation, however, appeared to revolve around whether such legally procured technical data was sold by Newport Aeronautical Sales to South Africa and whether that violated sanctions imposed by Congress.
Nadja Posey, a principal of the family-owned firm and mother of George Posey, said the materials listed on the government search warrants all related to sales of legally procured U.S. government flight manuals, technical specifications and drawings.
She also said that there had been no direct sales recently to South Africa but that materials sold to Israel may have ended up there.
South Africa maintains "pretty close ties with the Israeli defense establishment," Kramer said, and the white-dominated government is "believed to get at least some materials through these channels, materials which are very similar to U.S. equipment."
George Posey could not be reached for comment Sunday. But Nadja Posey said her son, a former air traffic controller, was approached by representatives of the South African government while he was honeymooning in Kenya in 1983 or 1984.
According to Kramer, sales of U.S. materials with military application were first restricted by Congress in 1963. Those restrictions were tightened by Congress first in 1977, and again in 1986, when stringent economic sanctions also were enacted over President Reagan's veto.
Newport Aeronautical Sales' current brochure features on its cover what appears to be an F-16 fighter, equipped with Sidewinder missiles and an array of other armaments. Inside are drawings of tanks, missiles and other aircraft which appear similar to F-111 fighter-bomber and C-5 transport aircraft. Attached is a sample microfiche listing cross-referenced manufacturers' and stock numbers.
The brochure warns that "All sales are subject to U.S. government approval and are export controlled."
The State Department's munitions control office maintains a list of all items that cannot be sold outside the country, Kramer said, including those items covered under the Munitions and Arms Export Control Act affecting South Africa.
"Almost everything on that list is prohibited for sale to South Africa," Kramer said, adding, "and I have seen manuals on the list of proscribed materials."
Since Kramer did not know what was on the government search warrant, he could not say whether the items in the brochure would violate government sanctions.
However, Robert L. Posey, George Posey's brother and a member of the firm, said that any of the materials sold by their firm "has to have approval by the State Department."
Sued the United States
"We obtain export licenses for everything," Robert Posey said early Sunday.
According to a 1984 article in the Wall Street Journal, George Posey successfully sued the United States to compel it to release non-classified military materials, including flight and technical manuals.
Robert Posey, a commercial pilot, said that unlike military hardware, which is exported, technical data does not require filing of an "end-user certificate" and thus may be reexported to a third country.
Of the FBI's investigation, Posey said, "They don't have anything. . . . It's not sensitive data. It's just sort of technical stuff."
"They've got a tough one to crack on this one," Robert Posey said. "It's not like we're really trying to hide anything. . . . We're in the technical data business. . . . If we were shipping guns or missiles, that would be one thing, but these are books!"
Times staff writer Andy Rose contributed to this article.