California Man Indicted for Export of Electronic Circuits to China

Posted by at 8:45 pm on January 26, 2009
Category: General

China SRAMThe indictment in the case of MIchael Zhang, the Chinese American arrested last week for exporting electronic circuits to China has been released. It provides some additional information on the government’s case, but leaves just as many questions unanswered.

According to the indictment, in 2006, Zhang exported on four separate occasions, 602 MIC bus controllers manufactured by Vetronix Research to the PRC. Additionally, on one occasion in 2008, Zhang exported 5 SRAM chips manufactured by Cypress Semiconductors to the PRC.

Of course, in order for this to be a criminal offense, Zhang needed to know that these were export-controlled items, and the indictment provides little information as to the reason that these items were export-controlled or why Zhang was in fact aware that they were export controlled. And, as many export professionals will attest, determining whether electronic circuits such as these are export-controlled is a difficult task at best.

The Vetronix product involved, the MIC bus controller MIC-320GM is no longer listed on the Vetronix website, although the Google cache suggests that as late as October 2008, it was still listed. So I can’t determine whether the now-vanished listing provided sufficient information to determine whether the item was export-controlled or not.

The MIC bus is a protocol that apparently allows solving power/data distribution and management problems under inclement environmental conditions. That would at least make me suspicious that the item might be controlled, but that knowledge alone wouldn’t be enough to support an indictment.

In terms of enforcement policy, one also has to wonder why exports of this product led to a criminal prosecution rather than a civil penalty proceeding. A quick Google search on the part number reveals thousands of these same parts available for sale by Hong Kong parts distributors.

The SRAM chip exported by Zhang was Cypress’s STK14C88-5L45M. No datasheet or specifications for this product are available on the Cypress website, so there is no way to determine whether the item meets the specifications set forth in ECCN 3A001 which is probably the controlling ECCN. Of course, it’s possible that this information was on product-packaging or that the company had otherwise advised Zhang that the items were controlled, but it is not information that is readily-available.

Problems like this obviously have motivated BIS to announce today a project that might make more information available as to the export classification of various items. Under the new project BIS is soliciting manufacturers to provide voluntarily links to classification information on their products. BIS will then make those links available on a BIS web page. Whether or not enough manufacturers will participate to make this a useful resource remains to be seen.


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Copyright © 2009 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)


The MIC part was a Mil-Spec serial bus controller designed to meet the requirements of the M1A2 Abrams. Radiation hardened and all.

The SRAM is rated to Mil-Spec temps -55 to +125

Comment by Reader on January 27th, 2009 @ 8:07 am

BTW, it took me less than 5 minutes to find the info:


Comment by Reader on January 27th, 2009 @ 8:10 am

I found the SIMTEK data sheet but wasn’t certain it was the same part as the Cypress SRAM.

The fact that it’s rated to MilSpec temps doesn’t necessarily make it a USML item, and the indictment doesn’t claim that it is. Rather the indictment says that it was Commerce controlled, and the temp specs you cite just miss being controlled under ECCN 3A001.a.2 which covers circuits rated for above 125C and below 55C.

I didn’t find the Vetronix document in the Google cache page that you linked to, and I’m not so sure exporters need to be able to find cached stuff that’s not on a website. But your analysis for this circuit is similarly problematic. Again mil spec is irrelevant; not all mil spec items are USML and that’s not what the indictment charges. And again the temperature rating is 55-125 inclusive, not below and above as required by the ECCN. Nor does the document that you cite indicate that the circuit is radiation hardened or was specifically designed for the Abrams tank.

Comment by Clif Burns on January 27th, 2009 @ 8:50 am

3A001.a.2.c covers the range of -55 to +125, does not have to be above.

I couldn’t figure out the control for the MIC part

Comment by Reader on January 27th, 2009 @ 9:13 am

You’re right about 3A001.a.2.c. I missed it because I was trying to comment too quickly on my way out the door to work, and just read a.2.a and a.2.b.

I think that effectively answers the questions as to whether these parts are controlled. The only open question is did Zhang know this or should he have even known it? (The criminal standard is actual knowledge, not “should have known.”)

Comment by Clif Burns on January 27th, 2009 @ 9:26 am

Well these guys aren’t exactly new to the export game, they should have known and there obviously was great cause to believe they know (hence the criminal indictment), what will be interesting is HOW MUCH they knew or if any of their suppliers were even checking on them.

Comment by Reader on January 27th, 2009 @ 11:33 am

Point of fact: BIS will not be compiling companies’ classification info. They will be compiling and publishing a list of the LOCATIONS of companies classification info websites and TC contact info.

Comment by another reader on January 27th, 2009 @ 2:56 pm

The BIS announcement is somewhat ambiguous, but on re-reading I agree with “another reader” above that the BIS website will only have links to company classification pages and not the company classification data itself. Post revised to reflect that.

Comment by Clif Burns on January 27th, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

I recently attended a BIS training where they said “we’re gonna put it all on a web site for ya”. Whatever “it” is… 😉

Comment by Chris W. on February 2nd, 2009 @ 7:51 pm