Archive for the ‘Arms Export’ Category


Jun

22

The Chewbacca Defense: Export Edition


Posted by at 5:26 pm on June 22, 2017
Category: Arms ExportCriminal PenaltiesDDTC

Human Cannonball by Laura LaRose [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/6shAzP [cropped and processed]The decision in United States v. Burden, decided back in November of 2016, is not breaking news, but as I’ve seen several commentaries on it recently, I thought I might weigh in.  The defendants in that case argued that they had not violated the Arms Export Control Act because — get this — ammunition magazines and grenade launcher mounts, according to the defendants, are not defense articles. The defendants argued that these items are not defense articles because they can also be used with airsoft guns.  Accordingly they claimed the magazine and mount are not defense articles as defined in section 120.4 of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations and no license was required for their export.   This is pretty much like arguing that cannons are not defense articles because you could use them in circuses to shoot people into trampoline nets.

For reasons that are not clear, this led the District Court to actually consider whether these items were defense articles or not as defined in section 120.4.  That section deals with commodity jurisdiction determinations and had no relevance to the case under consideration.  The question properly before the court was whether the grenade mounts and ammunition magazines are on the United States Munitions List (“USML”), not whether they are defense articles.

If the items are on the USML, they are by definition defense articles.   The very first sentence of the USML makes this crystal clear:

U.S. Munitions List. In this part, articles, services, and related technical data are designated as defense articles or defense services pursuant to sections 38 and 47(7) of the Arms Export Control Act.

This means that the only real question the court had to answer was whether the grenade mount and ammunition magazine were described in Category I(h) of the USML which covers “[c]omponents, parts, accessories and attachments” of firearms described in Category I, subparts (a) through (h). It doesn’t matter that these items can be used on airsoft or paintball guns any more than it matters that a cannon can be used in a circus act or a performance of the 1812 Overture. Certainly the magazine meets the definition of a component and the mount meets the definition of an attachment and that, pretty much, should have been the end of it.

Even so, the court decided that the items were defense articles not because they were on the USML but because an expert witness from DDTC said that they were defense articles. The expert in question was Robert Warren, formerly Division Chief of the Plans, Personnel, Programs, and Procedures Division of DDTC, an odd choice in comparison to, say, the division chief for the division that handles licensing for firearms.  In any event, the court noted that Warren testified that “a defense article as we termed it is anything that has a military significance or military application.”  And that, according to the court, settled the question as to whether the mount and the magazine were defense articles.

Of course, the idea that something is a defense article if it has a military application is the equally stupid mirror argument to the defendants’ nonsensical claim that something is not a defense article if it has a non-military use.  Under the standard articulated by Warren, a water canteen purchased at a camping store or a pair of camo pants purchased from a clothing store would be defense articles.

As noted above, there was no need for anyone to dive down this rabbit hole and figure whether the mount and the magazine were defense articles.  If they were described by Category I(h) as attachments and components of firearms then they were defense articles.  End of story.  No further proof as to whether they were defense articles was necessary.   And, given that the defendants did not appear to dispute that these items were components and attachments of firearms but only that they were defense articles, it is not unfair to accuse them of raising the fabled Chewbacca defense.

Photo Credit: Human Cannonball by Laura LaRose [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/6shAzP [cropped and processed]. Copyright 2009 Laura LaRose

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Jun

20

Shedding Light on Gun Exports on the Dark Web


Posted by at 9:57 pm on June 20, 2017
Category: Arms ExportCriminal PenaltiesDDTC

Cobray M-11 Pistol via https://www.gunsamerica.com/UserImages/199/917418641/wm_md_10452136.jpg [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Cobray M-11 Pistol

Two geniuses in Georgia hit on what they must have imagined was the perfect crime: sell guns to foreigners anonymously on the dark web; get paid anonymously in Bitcoins; make a billion dollars; spend the rest of their lives watching extreme wrestling and tractor pulls on cable TV. Except, of course, what really happened means that their cable TV viewing options over the next few years are likely to be extremely limited.

Even if, as the dog in the famous cartoon tells the other dog, “on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog” (or a gun smuggler), you can’t stay on the Internet forever. Not surprisingly, even though the two defendants tried to cloak themselves behind the dark web and supposedly anonymous cryptocurrency, they still had to leave their computers, buy the guns, take them to the post office and ship them to real people. And that, as they say, was all she wrote.

According to the indictment, the two defendants, Gerren Johnson and William Jackson, who used the pseudonyms CherryFlavor and CherryFlavor_2, first captured the attention of authorities when a 9mm pistol was “recovered” in the Netherlands from a buyer who said he bought the gun from dark web vendor named CherryFlavor. Shortly thereafter Australian customs recovered another pistol hidden in a karaoke machine (see, nothing ever good comes from karaoke), and the Australian buyer also identified his seller as CherryFlavor.

And here’s how the feds figured out who was hiding behind the CherryFlavor screen name: according to the indictment, Johnson bought an unusual gun, a Cobray Model M-11 Georgia Commemorative 9mm pistol from a dealer in Georgia. Two days later he posted the gun for sale on his dark web site. Now the feds had the link they needed: a non-virtual gun dealer making a real sale in the real world to a real person of a real gun that then shows up on CherryFlavor’s page. Game over.

The interesting thing is what Messrs. CherryFlavor are charged with in the indictment. The first count is operating an unregistered firearms business. The second and third counts are for exports of two guns in violation of the anti-smuggling statute, 18 U.S.C. 554, which forbids exports from the United States “contrary to any law or regulation of the United States.” Oddly, the law said to be violated was not the Arms Export Control Act but 18 U.S.C. § 922(e) which prohibits shipping a firearm without disclosing to the shipper that a firearm is being shipped.

So why aren’t the defendants charged with what appears to be a clear violation of the Arms Export Control Act? We know that prosecutors have argued, not very persuasively, that the knowledge requirement for violations of section 554 is just an intentional export without any requirement that the defendant knows the intentional export is in violation of law. But here, if the allegations of the indictment are true, the case that the defendants knew what they were doing is, as they say, a slam dunk. They sold guns to foreign customers using pseudonyms on the dark web in exchange for Bitcoins and sent the guns hidden in karaoke machines. Criminal intent does not get much clearer than that. My guess is that there is more going on here than Dumb and Dumber selling guns on the dark web. Charges like this suggest that the prosecutors have negotiated with the defendants in exchange for some broader cooperation. If that’s true, it will be interesting to see what happens next.

UPDATE:  Commenter “Name” makes a good point: because the case is in the 11th Circuit, the prosecution has to deal with a stricter intent requirement and has to show that the defendants knew that an export license was required.  See United States v. Macko, 994 F.2d 1526 (11th Cir. 1993).  The defendants’ concealment of the gun in a karaoke machine shows a knowledge of illegality but, perhaps, not necessarily a knowledge of a license requirement under the AECA.  It was for this reason, the commenter said, that the charge was under 18 U.S.C. § 554, which might not be subject to the stricter intent requirement.  Commenter “Name” used a VPN to conceal his/her identity and location, so I suspect this is a person who has some actual knowledge of why the government charged this case the way it did.

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Copyright © 2017 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)

Mar

8

Did Undercover Agent Give Legal Lecture to Defendant on Export Law or Not?


Posted by at 10:07 am on March 8, 2017
Category: Arms ExportCriminal PenaltiesDDTC

Kolar Rahman Mug Shot
ABOVE: Kolar Rahman

Several law enforcement officials have said to me that what often makes their jobs so easy is that many criminals are several forks short of a kitchen utensil drawer.   With that in mind, we bring you the story of Kolar Rahman Anees Ur Rahman, who, if the criminal complaint is to be believed, was pretty stupid.  But maybe not.  You decide.

Mr. Rahman is an Indian national living in the UAE who just received five years probation in connection with a scheme to ship sniper rifles to Belarus. After an associate of Rahman’s contacted a gun manufacturer in the United States with a request to buy guns for Belarus, a federal undercover agent got in contact with Rahman in the UAE to continue the purchase negotiations. The undercover (or UCA in fedspeak) lured Rahman to Chicago, which was Rahman’s second mistake, the first of course having been trying to ship rifles from the US to Belarus in the first place.

Now what follows as described in the criminal complaint is astonishing, if true:

The UCA reminded RAHMAN that all of the .308 Caliber sniper rifles are export controlled in the U.S. by ITAR and could not be exported to certain countries without a license. The UCA reminded RAHMAN, due to the policy of denial in place by the U.S. government against Belarus, that it was not possible to obtain the required export licenses needed to legally export the .308 Caliber sniper rifles. The UCA explained that in order to export the firearms, they would need to make misrepresentations on the paperwork as to where the rifles would be shipped. RAHMAN informed the UCA he understood and still wanted to continue with their business transaction. The UCA informed RAHMAN he wanted to make sure RAHMAN understood the risks and that they would both go to jail if they were caught illegally exporting the rifles and ammunition. RAHMAN informed the UCA he understood the risk and that he desired to complete their business transaction as planned.

Seriously? This lengthy lecture on the law didn’t set off alarm bells, warning signals, blaring sirens, flashing lights and abject fear in Rahman? What real criminal ever gives a lengthy lecture to his associates about criminal law before embarking on the planned conduct? “Hey, Rufus, ya know robbing banks is illegal, right? And if we carry guns the penalty is increased to 30 to life? If we do this, we can both go to jail for at least thirty years or more. You know that, right? Speak up. I can’t hear ya. Okay, so you are absolutely, positively certain without any equivocation that you still want to rob this bank and you’re doing so of your own free will even though you might wind up in jail for a very long time? Don’t nod, Rufus, I need to hear you say yes.”

The UCA, if he in fact said all this, was making sure he could establish the necessary criminal intent for an export violation. This is critical where an Indian national living in the UAE might not know the ins and outs of U.S. export laws or about the U.S. arms embargo on Belarus. (I bet even a bunch of Americans don’t know about the Belarus embargo.) But you have to wonder why Rahman when (and if) he got this five-minute spiel on U.S. law didn’t run out the door of the hotel room in Chicago and hop on the next flight back to the UAE.

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Copyright © 2017 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)

May

23

Vietnam Arms Embargo Lifted (More or Less)


Posted by at 5:07 pm on May 23, 2016
Category: Arms ExportDDTCVietnam

Saigon Morin hotel (Hue, Vietnam 2015) by Paul Arps [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/C2rm6w [cropped and color corrected]During a press conference today in Hanoi, President Obama announced the lifting of the arms embargo against Vietnam. Although he stated that the action had nothing to do with China, U.S. officials have noted before that the idea was to help Vietnam counter threats from the PRC in the South China Sea. There has also been speculation that Vietnam would, in return, provide access to Cam Ranh Bay and its deepwater port.

Of course, attentive readers will remember that back in November 2014 the embargo was lifted to permit exports to Vietnam of non-lethal defense articles and lethal weapons “to enhance maritime security capabilities and domain awareness.” Applications for such exports were considered on a case-by-case basis. As a result of today’s action, this limitation on lethal weapon exports to Vietnam has been removed.

DDTC scrambled to get something up on its website, where this notice now appears:

Industry Notice: Change in Policy on Exports of Munitions to Vietnam (05.23.16)

Pursuant to a decision made by the Secretary of State and effective immediately, the Department of State’s policy prohibiting the sale or transfer of lethal weapons to Vietnam, including restrictions on exports to and imports from Vietnam for arms and related materiel, has been terminated. Consequently, in accordance with the Arms Export Control Act, the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) will review on case-by-case basis applications for licenses to export or temporarily import defense articles and defense services to or from Vietnam under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). DDTC will soon publish a rule in the Federal Register to implement a conforming change to ITAR §126.1.

Since the provisions in section 126.1 refer to a licensing policy, there seems to be no reason why DDTC can’t change the license policy first and clean up the regulations later. After all, the Vietnam subsection of 126.1 starts with “[i]t is the policy of the United States to deny” licenses for exports to Vietnam. So, if an exporter applies for and receives a license, there won’t be any issue of violating the unchanged regulation.

Things, however, are not so simple for the absolute prohibition in section 126.1(b), which provides:

A defense article licensed or otherwise authorized for export, temporary import, reexport, or retransfer under this subchapter may not be shipped on a vessel, aircraft, spacecraft, or other means of conveyance that is owned by, operated by, leased to, or leased from any of the proscribed countries, areas, or other persons referred to in this section.

That prohibition will remain in place, forbidding shipment on Vietnamese vessels of licensed defense articles, until whenever (likely in a few years) DDTC gets around to amending 126.1 to reflect today’s action.

Photo Credit: Saigon Morin hotel (Hue, Vietnam 2015) by Paul Arps [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/C2rm6w [cropped and color corrected]. Copyright Paul Arps 2015.

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)

Feb

23

Gun Laundering Scheme Takes Defendant to the Cleaners


Posted by at 7:06 pm on February 23, 2016
Category: Arms ExportCriminal PenaltiesDDTC

Washing Machine or your life by Alexander von Halem [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/aeNmsj [cropped]Richmond Attah, a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, was indicted last week for exporting 27 handguns and 3500 rounds of ammunition without the required license from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. The guns and ammo, which were hidden in a washing machine, a dryer and a barrel, were on their way to Ghana before being discovered by U.S. customs officials in Savannah, Georgia.

As readers of this blog undoubtedly know, a criminal export conviction requires proof that the defendant knew that he or she was violating the law in connection with the unlicensed export. Given the confusing welter of applicable regulations, and the uncertain export classification of many items, this can often be a difficult task. The challenge for the defense in this case will be explaining exactly why, if true, 27 handguns were put into a washer and dryer bound for Ghana and why this is not fairly conclusive proof that Mr. Attah knew that the exports were illegal. Perhaps the explanation will be that the intended recipient demanded that the weapons be “clean” and Mr. Attah did not completely understand what this meant.

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)