Iran Missile Engineer Oversees Chavez’s Drones

Robert Beckhusen – Wired June 18, 2012

The manager of Venezuela’s drone program is an engineer who helped build ballistic missiles for Iran. The engineer’s identity raises new questions about the purposes behind Venezuela’s drone program. But it’s also only one part of a mystery involving drones shipped from Iran to Venezuela while hidden in secret cargo containing possibly more military hardware than just ‘bots.

According to El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister paper of The Miami Herald, US officials believe Iran shipped drones to Venezuela hidden in cargo containers. The date and specific port are not known, but Venezuela only received six drones — in a shipment of 70 containers carrying each more than 24,000 pounds of cargo. The cargo was camouflaged as material “from Venirauto (Venezuelan-Iranian Automotive) through a Chilean company,” a source told the newspaper.

The containers were headed for a Venezuelan air base and the location for the M2 drone project, named after the Mohajer, a light surveillance drone manufactured by Iran. The supervisor, Ramin Keshavarz, is member of the Revolutionary Guards and former employee of Iran’s Defense Industry Organization, a firm embargoed by the United States for overseeing Iran’s ballistic missile program. The stealthy cargo, the Iranian missile engineer, and more than a million pounds of unaccounted weight, was not all. “Excessively high” amounts of money are paid for the drone program, much higher than the total cost of the ‘bots.

Also under investigation is a Parchin Industries site in Morón, Venezuela. Parchin is believed to make fuel for Iran’s mid-range missiles and has been accused by the International Atomic Energy Agency of conducting explosive tests inside a containment chamber located in Iran. Morón also houses a joint Iranian-Venezuelan gunpowder factory. Venezuela is also testing six Iranian drone models, with three under “special suspicion” for being not what they seem: the Justiciero, Vengador and Venezolano drones. In other words, US officials believe these drones could be more than just drones…

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