Newsday, Late 1987
Rowan's book found this account published in Newsday in late 1987.
Metcalf went back to Scotland where, for a premium of $150,000, he arranged an insurance policy for 90% of the value of the contract with the exports Credit Guarantee Department, an agency of the British Department of Trade and Industry. It would take a year to build the furnaces and presses, and many of the vital components-automatic controls, cooling equipment, switch gears, starters and relays--had to be bought from outside vendors in England, West Germany and the United States. And "jest plain Jimmy" didn't make any secret of his big score with the Soviets.
Lord only knows how the story went, by the time he was done adding a little intrigue here, a little mystery there, and after it was passed around within the tightly-knit world of vacuum melting specialists. Ultimately, the grapevine carried the story to U.S. military and intelligence officials. Of course, we had advised the Pentagon of the sale; but that was Fact and nothing stirs the imagination like a rumor.
The busy year passed and in July 1984, Consarc Engineering began shipping the nine furnaces and two presses to the Soviet Union.
By this time, although the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Pentagon had shown little interest in the sale, a separate government agency had begun making its own inquiries--the Central Intelligence Agency. According to the CIA, the Russians had lied to us. Consarc's equipment wasn't going to be used to make carbon electrode material, instead, the furnaces and presses would be used to produce the mythical carbon-carbon.
Carbon-carbon, with its high strength-to-weight ratio and heat resistance, was a vital component in the manufacture of the most sophisticated aircraft and missiles, where it was used primarily for reentry leading edges. But even those of us who had heard of it had no knowledge of the process or equipment that was involved, as it was highly confidential. In theory, we learned its production involved weaving fibers of carbon-rich material such as rayon into bundles, heating them in a vacuum and carburizing the fibers, and then immersing them in pitch, which soaks into the open spaces between the weave. The weave is then placed into an isostatic press, where, under heat and pressures of 2,000 pounds per square inch or more, the pitch is forced further into the fibers.
When the isostatic and vacuum induction processes are repeated, the new materials becomes increasingly dense and heat resistant. The most dense and heat-resistant form was called "carbon-carbon," When formed into nose cones for missiles, its slow burn rate reduces "wobble" upon reentry into the atmosphere, thus increasing accuracy of "first strike" weaponry.
While I was furious at the thought that Consarc equipment could be used to form and heat treat nose cones, I was astonished that the CIA now ascribed such importance to the equipment our Scottish subsidiary was shipping. While isostatic presses and vacuum furnaces represented steps in the manufacture of carbon, the secret to carbon-carbon lay in the weaving process and the chemistry involved. It was like calling someone a gourmet chef because he owned a skillet.
Nonetheless, on October 31 of 1984--a year and a half after we'd told the U.S. Department of Commerce about the sale---the Pentagon transmitted an urgent message to the U.S. Embassy in London. The story they told was alarming: Consarc Engineering, Ltd. was shipping an entire plant for processing carbon-carbon to the Soviet Union.
The next month, after lengthy meetings between British and American authorities to discuss the alleged carbon-carbon plant and the possibility of Consarc's involvement, British Customs officials arrived at Consarc Engineering to inspect the equipment scheduled for shipment and asked Metcalf to delay further shipments. After the inspection was over, British Customs removed their official "request for delay" and told Consarc to go ahead and deliver the goods.
This didn't satisfy Washington, however. Three weeks later, a delegation of Pentagon, Commerce Department and CIA officials arrived in London to petition the British government to halt any remaining shipments. They acted too late; only a few days earlier the British Department of Trade and Industry echoed the Customs Department's approval of the sale and, even as the Americans were landing in Heathrow Airport, 95% of the equipment was already on its way to the buyers in Khotkovo.