Tucson, Arizona Wednesday, 31 December 2003
Customs worker was part of probe of plot to sell missile engines to Iran
By Michael Marizco
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
A federal agency closed its investigation into the suspected sale of missile
engines to Iran after an undercover agent in Tucson gave the suspects his
office phone number.
Now, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is trying to fire the agent,
Greg Miller, 47, who has worked for the agency 13 years.
Miller is suing to keep his job, saying the agency is only using his phone
number mistake as a pretext to dismiss him on an unrelated matter - his
complaint that state police roughed up one of his sources, a Saudi Arabian
man, during a search of the man's Tucson home.
The missile engine case is mentioned, but few details are provided in a Nov.
3 letter to Miller that spells out his employer's plans to fire him. A copy
of that letter was sent to the Arizona Daily Star by Miller's attorney.
On two occasions, in June 2002 and March 2003, suspects in the missile
engine case actually phoned Miller's number at Immigration and Customs
Enforcement and left him messages - even though he uses his real name on the
voice mail message rather than the undercover name they would have known him
If the callers were to dial "0" for the operator instead of leaving a
message, the letter notes, the receptionist at the front desk would have
answered with the agency's name.
This mistake forced the agency to close the missile engine investigation,
according to the letter, written by Richard Bailey, an
assistant-special-agent-in-charge of the Tucson office. The letter says the
agency was investigating an attempt to acquire what are described as "10
Tri-Turbo Jet engines used on drones and missiles destined for the Republic
The investigation had taken about 3,000 hours of federal government time
before it was closed, Bailey wrote.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not elaborate on the
investigation. "If we deem information to be law-enforcement-sensitive, we
will not be discussing information about that case," said agency spokesman
Russell Ahr in Phoenix.
Miller would make only one comment on the record, referring all questions to
his attorney, David Ross of Beverly Hills, who specializes in
whistle-blowing cases against the federal government.
Said Miller, "The Constitution is what separates criminals from the police.
And as far as I'm concerned, the Constitution is not for sale. That's why I
did it. It was just wrong."
Ross said the missile investigation had progressed far enough for
prosecution. Agents were supposed to be waiting for the sellers of the
missile engines to pass through Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix,
where they were to be arrested on conspiracy charges, he said.
Ross acknowledged that Miller accidentally gave the suspects his real office
number instead of his undercover cell phone number, but he disagreed that
this was the reason for the collapse of the investigation.
"They dropped it for insufficient evidence, but not because of anything that
had to do with Greg," Ross said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix declined comment, referring questions
about the dispute to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
John Carman, a former customs inspector who worked with Miller in San Diego,
has spoken with Miller about the case and said Miller had been attempting to
buy the engines from sellers in Arizona who knew they were acting outside
"It'd be like trying to get printing plates for a $20 bill; it involves
something that is totally controlled," Carman said.
It is typical for customs agents to act as a buyer in such an undercover
operation because it is easier to indict suspects with items they're already
holding rather than trying to entrap them into making a buy, he said.
"It's very hard for some people to do. Undercover work is very dangerous,
very risky; normally they don't want to put you at risk," Carman said.
The engines described in Miller's termination letter sound like a type
capable of carrying a missile with any kind of payload from Iran to other
Middle Eastern countries or even to parts of Europe, said Philip Coyle, a
former rocket scientist and director of the Center for Defense Information
in Los Angeles. The engines could not propel a missile as far as the United
States, Coyle said.
The engines could have a non-military use, but because of their potential to
be used in a weapons system, their sale is prohibited to Iran - a nation the
United States has labeled as a sponsor of terrorism, said Jim Phillips, an
international terrorism analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
The letter to Miller cites two other reasons for Immigration and Customs
Enforcement to seek his firing: allegations that he told federal prosecutors
he could not trust his own credibility as a witness, which Miller denies;
and giving out private information about Iraqi nationals living in Arizona
to a third party, the Saudi man whose treatment by state police prompted
The Saudi man, whose name is being withheld by the Star out of concern for
his safety, was investigated last year by the Arizona Department of Public
Safety in connection with an auto theft ring, but he was never indicted,
said his lawyer, Jesse Smith of Tucson.
Ross, Miller's attorney, said his client was disturbed to learn that state
agents had thrown the man to the concrete floor when they entered his home
with a search warrant on Sept. 10, 2002.
Their treatment left the man with scraped and bruised legs, and the officers
later ordered the man to their office to have his fingerprints and photo
taken, Ross said.
Miller complained to his group supervisor that the officers used excessive
Only at this point, Ross said, two months after the missile investigation
was closed, did his employers decide to take action against him.
"Those charges are things that involve incidents from a long time ago," he
said. "The only time the issue is raised is when he complained."
In July 2003, stripped of his gun and badge and assigned as a receptionist,
Miller hired Ross. The attorney filed suit with the Merit Systems Protection
Board in San Francisco, an independent adjudicator created for federal
employees to appeal personnel actions, said board spokeswoman Amy Dunning.
It can also be the first stop for lawsuits in federal court.
Under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, Miller's employers must
prove they would have fired him for his actions regardless of the complaint
about state police abuses, said Doug Hartnett with the Government
Accountability Project, a Washington, D.C., group that protects
A key consideration, Hartnett said, is when the agency took action to demote
Miller to desk duties. That occurred only after Miller lodged his complaint,
In July 2001, Miller made headlines when he uncovered a plot by a German man
to export machine guns and military helicopter parts to Iran.
"He's sincere and that's something you can't sell," said Carman, the former
customs inspector. "This is a guy that wants to do his job; he's loyal and
he's a patriot."
Miller requested a leave of absence and it was granted to him until Jan. 9.
* Contact reporter Michael Marizco at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.