Lessons in Spycraft: Don’t Try This at Home

Posted by at 6:50 pm on October 31, 2013
Category: Arms ExportCriminal PenaltiesDDTC

Source http://www.defenseimagery.mil/imagery.html#a=search&s=f-15&chk=6cff0&t=0&p=2&guid=76a6c050743c287abd63255e111c2a6e7a281d91 [Public Domaiin; work of federal employee]A New Jersey woman, Hannah Robert, was arraigned on Monday on charges that she exported ITAR-controlled technical drawings without a DDTC license in violation of the Arms Export Control Act. The drawings allegedly involved parts for the F-15, the Chinook helicopter and other military aircraft as well as nuclear submarines.

According to the DOJ press release, Ms. Robert used an unusual method of exporting the technical drawings to her overseas contact:

Starting in October 2010, Robert transmitted the military drawings for these parts to India by posting the technical data to the password-protected website of a Camden County, N.J., church where she was a volunteer web administrator. This was done without the knowledge of the church staff. Robert e-mailed R.P. the username and password to the church website so that R.P. could download the files from India. Through the course of the scheme, Robert uploaded thousands of technical drawings to the church website for R.P. to download in India.

A key element in any export prosecution is scienter, that is, proof that the defendant knew that his or her conduct was illegal. If these allegations are true, the prosecution is not going to have a hard time in establishing that Ms. Robert knew that she should not have sent these drawings out of the country without a license.

For espionage aficionados, this technique is known as a dead drop and in the Internet era dead drops have been done on such places as draft folders of shared Gmail accounts (viz., the love letters of General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell). It’s probably safe to say that churches, whether brick and mortar or their virtual locations, are not the best location for a dead drop. The DOJ press release doesn’t reveal how Ms. Robert got nabbed but I have a pretty clear picture of some shocked vicar stumbling on these drawings late one night and calling the feds.


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Copyright © 2013 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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True, it’s fun to imagine the puzzlement of a cleric who stumbled across mysterious messages from CAD on the church’s secure .ftp site. But I suspect the problems were discovered more prosaically. The DOJ press release and indictment describe component quality issues that incurred the righteous wrath of both the customer and the ultimate end-user, DOD. Roberts apparently tried to paper the concerns over with certifications bearing false witness, but a decent supplier audit likely revealed her deceitful tongue.

What’s most surprising to me about this episode is that Roberts even managed to land military parts subcontracts running a business from home to begin with. Her customer awarded her manufacturing work without first conducting an on-site plant visit? No checks on an unproven company’s engineering change processes, quality controls, inventory management, capacity, etc.? Not good. I suppose it’s a function of the (un)due diligence problems that can pop up in the USG’s increasingly complicated, tiered, and diffuse supply chains.

Comment by Pat on November 1st, 2013 @ 10:38 am

    Good point, Pat, about the part failure issue as also on of the ways she could have gotten caught.

    Comment by Clif Burns on November 1st, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

Not to disillusion Pat further, but this sort of thing has happened before;


Comment by Scott on November 2nd, 2013 @ 2:58 pm

Interesting that the US Military is victim of forged spare parts.

Comment by Martin on November 4th, 2013 @ 2:31 am