Two armed Libyan government personnel are firing teargas on protesters in a city street. A common sight except for the uncommon vehicles they're in: US-built Toyota Tundra utes, modified for combat by a US company. An exclusive Jalopnik investigation reveals how these trucks ended up in the hands of Moammar Qaddafi's government.
This photo first appeared in a March 4th New York Times article highlighting the brutality levelled against protesters by Gaddafi's forces. In the photo there are at least three blue armoured Toyota Tundras, and possibly more around the corner.
The existence of Tundras in Libya raises a number of questions because, despite the proliferation of the popular Toyota Hilux in Libya, the Tundra is an American-built truck - the only plant is in San Antonio, Texas - and isn't sold outside of North America - the majority of sales are in the United States.
"Toyota does not have any direct operation in Libya. Sales of Toyota vehicles in Libya are handled by one private company, which has no capital relationship with Toyota," we were told by a Toyota spokesperson. "The company is not currently selling Toyota vehicles in Libya."
All of the Tundras are also armoured with what appears to be metal boxes over the bed and bulletproof ballistic glass. This means the person who exported the trucks also likely had them up-worked in the United States where it would be easier to handle the job.
Gaddafi's love of Toyota trucks is well known, as he fought an entire war with his neighbour Chad using them. It was even called The Great Toyota War by pundits and Libyans have been using the trucks ever since, including a fleet of SUVs he drove around in last week. It's not surprising then that he'd want Toyota's first and only full-sized truck - the Tundra.
So how'd he get them?
The job of up-armoring the vehicles was done by Texcalibur Armor in Houston, Texas, just a couple of hundred miles down the road from the San Antonio plant where they were built.
Scott Newman, the Vice President of Texcalibur, refused to go into details about the job but admitted he, and his company, were involved.
"The only comment I will say is Texcalibur did not purchase those vehicles, they were delivered to us, we did the armour, and everything we did was protected by the export licence we submitted for."
The buyer of the vehicles is unknown, but the secrecy is probably unnecessary as it wasn't illegal to export vehicles to Libya as recently as a few months ago (and it's possible the trucks were exported elsewhere). A warming of relations between Libya and western governments meant a weakening of controls on exports to the country, although the amount of items sent there from the United States were rather limited.
"There were two changes over time, one was that the US economic sanctions administered by the Office for Foreign Asset Controls were revised," said Ed Krauland, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson and an expert on international export law. "And the second regulatory regime [the Commerce Department's Export Administrations Regulation]was revised to reflect a more open export control policy towards Libya."
It was still illegal to sell arms to Libya, but under the Export Administrations Regulation (EAR) defensive vehicles under a certain level of armour were legal to export. Here's their definition of what can be sent across for ground vehicles:
Vehicles in this category are primarily transport vehicles designed or modified for transporting cargo, personnel and/or equipment, or to move other vehicles and equipment over land and roads in close support of fighting vehicles and troops.
The U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security also has export licensing jurisdiction over unarmed all-wheel drive vehicles capable of off-road use which have been manufactured or fitted with materials to provide ballistic protection, including protection to level III (National Institute of Justice Standard 0108.01, September 1985) or better if they do not have armour described in 22 CFR part 121, Category XIII.
At the time of the photo the vehicles appear to be in control of the Libyan police authorities, and not the military, although the distinction is difficult to make and the level of armour is nearly impossible to determine.
It's a reminder that in America - anyone, with enough money and effort, can get almost anything, even if the anyone is Colonel Qaddafi and the anything is a Texas-built, Texas-armored truck.
Photo credit: The New York Times