Order No. 208487 seemed innocent enough.
A customer in Toronto wanted four optical scanners and related parts from a small technology firm in Cambridge, Mass. They were to be shipped to Jordan as a donation to a university from the customer’s father.
The scanners “will be used in Jordan, due to the lack of technology, to educate students in the university and graduate levels,” the customer, Mazen Rashid, wrote to Cambridge Technology Inc. on Feb. 26, 2002.
But the equipment was not intended for the university, according to contracts, letters and other documents obtained by The Times. Instead, it was to be smuggled into Iraq, to circumvent sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime, which require that any such goods be declared to the United Nations.
There is reason to suspect that Iraq’s Military Industrialization Commission, which oversaw Hussein’s weapons procurement and production, planned to use the scanners to combat U.S. warplanes.
The Iraqis paid 45,000 euros, worth about $39,500 at the time, for the equipment -- nearly four times the sum that Rashid paid Cambridge.
“Somebody made a lot of money selling this stuff,” said Redmon P. “Red” Aylward, Cambridge Technology’s president.
He said he was surprised to learn that the scanners had been destined for Iraq. “Every indication that we had was that this was a legitimate university order,” Aylward said. But only those who knowingly provided prohibited material violated sanctions.
Laser scanners are generally used for such commercial purposes as applying serial numbers to dashboards or cell phones. But they can be adapted for use in systems that guide missiles and jam radar, Aylward said.
According to documents found in the Baghdad offices of the Al Bashair Trading Co., the major weapons-purchasing agent for Hussein’s government, and translated from Arabic for The Times, the Iraqis had valuable assistance in obtaining the scanners.
In a Qatari legal document dated Jan. 30, 2001, two members of Qatar’s ruling family, Sheik Jasem Ahmed Mohammed Thani al Thani and Sheik Fahed Ahmed Mohammed Thani al Thani, who were officers of Fast Trading & Contracting Co. in Doha, Qatar, authorized a Jordanian, Ahmed Mohammed Arshid, to “represent us before the official authorities and the private sector in Iraq.”
Qatar was a U.S. ally during the war with Iraq this year; the U.S. set up a command center in the sheikdom. The ruling family has 8,000 to 10,000 members, and most are not close to the country’s rulers, said Patrick N. Theros, a former U.S. ambassador to Qatar and the chairman of the U.S.-Qatar Business Council.
As revealed in the document trail, Rashid, the Jordanian living in Toronto, paid Cambridge Technology $10,110 for the scanners, driver cards, cables, bit inputs and mirror mounts on Feb. 27, 2002.
At Rashid’s request, Cambridge sent the equipment to a company in Amman, the Jordanian capital. Cambridge filed an export document with the U.S. Department of Commerce listing Jordan as the order’s final destination.
But Jordan was not the scanners’ last stop. According to a May 10, 2001, contract between Arshid, identified as the representative of Fast Trading, and Munir Awad, director-general of Al Bashair, the scanners were to be shipped to Iraq. The Iraqis wanted delivery by Oct. 30, 2001.
On May 30, 2001, Rajaa Hassan Ali, deputy minister of Iraq’s Military Industrialization Commission, wrote to the commercial attache at the Iraqi Embassy in Amman: “You are requested to take the necessary steps to deposit the sum of 45,000 euros in favor of the Fast Trading & Contracting Company under the condition that it will be paid 100% after the testing and final acceptance in Baghdad.”
Three months later, an official of the Saddam Co. located outside Fallouja expressed impatience with the lack of progress to Al Bashair. Fast Trading & Contracting Co., he wrote, “has not undertaken any measure to show good faith in performing the contract in a timely manner.”
In a declaration to the United Nations in January 2003, the Iraqis said the Saddam Co. was “involved in activities for missile programs.”
For reasons not apparent from the documents, the shipment was further delayed until March 2002. The contents were treated discreetly. An Iraqi government document dated Feb. 4, 2002, authorizing land transport of the scanners from Jordan to Iraq with delivery to Al Bashair referred to the equipment as “spare parts.”
Abdullah Ibrahim, an attorney for Fast Trading, asserted Tuesday that most, if not all, of the documents obtained by The Times concerning the company were forgeries. He said the two sheiks were unaware of any contract with Al Bashair and did not profit from the scanner deal. He described Fast Trading as a small company that mainly handles car rentals.
Ibrahim declined to confirm that the sheiks had retained Arshid as Fast Trading’s representative in Iraq. If they did so, he said, it was solely to engage in legitimate commercial deals permitted by the United Nations. If Arshid violated those terms, the attorney said, “it is his responsibility, not theirs.”
The sheiks do not know Arshid’s whereabouts, he said. The Times was also unable to locate him.
Aylward said Mazen Rashid had placed a previous, identical order in 2001 that was shipped to the same company in Jordan.
The Cambridge scanners, known technically as galvanometers, steer a mirror or mirrors to move a laser beam over a surface. They are generally employed to produce markings such as bar codes, logos or serial numbers, project laser beams onto a screen or analyze large numbers of biomedical research samples.
Aylward described the scanners sold to Rashid as being in the middle range of those made by his company.
“From our limited military application experience, I wouldn’t have guessed by the galvanometer size that this would be military in nature,” he said. “But I can’t rule it out because our customers determine the final system design, and the approach can vary broadly.” He said that only two of Cambridge’s customers, who number more than 500, are military.
Eugene Arthurs, executive director of the International Society for Optical Engineering, said optical scanners could be combined with other components to create equipment that deploys a laser beam to guide a missile or deflect a missile away from its path, either by blinding its detectors or sending it off target.
Rashid, reached in Toronto, where he is a part-time student at Seneca College, confirmed placing the order at the request of his father, Ahmad Mohammed Rashid, who he said is retired in Jordan.
He used the letterhead of AMR Construction, his father’s company, which he acknowledged is no longer in business. Ahmad Rashid ran the company in Sacramento before apparently relocating in the 1990s.
“Right now he’s retired and he’s trying to make Jordan better for the rest of his life, educate people in Jordan,” Mazen Rashid said.
Rashid said he did not know the name of the university that was to receive the scanners. Told that documents showed the equipment was sent from Jordan to Iraq, he responded, “That’s ridiculous!” He agreed to contact his father to have him respond to further questions.
Ahmad Rashid has not done so. Mazen Rashid has not returned subsequent calls.
Times staff writers Jeffrey Fleishman in Berlin, Bob Drogin in Washington and Rone Tempest in Sacramento, researchers Robin Cochran in Washington and Jailan Zayan of The Times’ Cairo Bureau contributed to this report.