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Illegal Sales to Soviets Probed by Norway

October 23, 1987|JOHN M. BRODER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Norwegian police, investigating the illegal transfer of advanced Western technology to the Soviet Union, have found a broad pattern of sales of European--and possibly American--machine tools and computer equipment to Soviet defense plants, according to a report released here Thursday.

The investigation revealed that over a 10-year period, French, British, Italian and West German firms sold the Soviet Union 140 sophisticated milling machines, along with computer controls manufactured by a state-owned Norwegian arms maker, Kongsberg Vapenfabrikk. Much of the machinery wound up at military facilities where it helped the Soviets make nuclear arms and propellers for hard to detect submarines, the report said.

Other sensitive equipment was shipped from Western Europe to China and Czechoslovakia. The report did not disclose whether the machinery was put to military use in those countries, however.

Norwegian investigators also uncovered evidence that American firms may have violated technology export laws by selling advanced machinery to the Soviet Union. However, Norwegian authorities declined to provide specific information about what equipment and which U.S. companies may have been involved.

State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley called the Norwegian report "disturbing reading. It reveals a durable and well-established pattern of involvement by several Western corporations in Soviet attempts to acquire high technology with military applications."

The new information reveals a considerably wider problem with illegal technology exports than was suspected when authorities began the probe earlier this year. The inquiry resulted from the discovery in February that advanced Toshiba machine tools from Japan and Kongsberg computer controls from Norway had been supplied to a Soviet submarine factory in Leningrad.

Pentagon Angered

That disclosure infuriated the Pentagon, which said that the machinery had made Soviet submarines much quieter and harder to detect. Undoing the damage will cost at least $1 billion, the Pentagon said.

Congress quickly moved to punish Toshiba, which sells a variety of consumer products in this country. A bill is now pending that would bar all imports from Toshiba to the United States for at least two years.

The sales dramatized weaknesses in efforts to regulate the transfer of Western technology, which are administered by the Paris-based Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (Cocom), U.S. officials said Thursday. Through Cocom, the United States, Japan and 14 North Atlantic Treaty Organization members attempt to control the sale of sensitive technology and raw materials to the Soviet Union and its allies.

The Norwegian report named these companies as being suspected of violating Cocom rules by re-exporting milling equipment: Ratier Forrest in France; Schiess A.G., Dorries and Donauwerke in West Germany; Innocenti in Italy; Toshiba Machine Co. in Japan, and KTM Machine Tool Holdings in Britain.

All the nations involved but West Germany have ignored requests from Norway to cooperate in the investigation, according to the report, and Japan so far has failed to comply with a request from Norwegian police to interview several Japanese involved in the affair.

The report may also spell trouble for the Norwegian government because it found that numerous critical documents covering the sales were destroyed by officials at the Ministry of Trade.

Kjell Eliassen, the Norwegian envoy to the United States, said Thursday that Norway already has charged three Kongsberg officials with violating Norwegian law.

He said that the damage to Norway's security has been "very, very severe indeed" because the sales make Soviet submarines shadowing the Norwegian coast much harder to track.

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