Archive for the ‘Arms Export’ Category



Chinese Hacker Nabbed on Export Charges

Posted by at 9:20 pm on August 19, 2014
Category: Arms ExportCriminal PenaltiesDDTCDeemed Exports

Stephen Su photo taken by CBP during U.S. transit in 2011 via [Public Domain]
ABOVE: Stephen Su

Well, we all know, or should know, that hacking is a criminal violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, at least when it entails unauthorized access to another party’s computer. What you may not know is that if you’re a foreign national and if the data accessed is technical data controlled by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, hacking can also be a violation of the Arms Export Control Act.

Back in June, Canadian authorities arrested, at the request of the FBI, a Chinese citizen and Canadian permanent resident named, variously, Su Bin, Stephen Su and Stephen Subin, who we’ll refer to simply as Su for convenience.  Su , the owner of Lode-Tech, a Chinese company with an office in Canada, was accused of conspiring with several Chinese nationals to hack into U.S. defense contractors’ computer systems and to exfiltrate data about military aircraft back to China.  Last Friday, Su was indicted by a federal grand jury in California.

One of the charges in the indictment is a violation of the Arms Export Control Act.  The theory behind this charge is that Su, with his PRC-based co-conspirators, conspired to break in the U.S. computer systems and to disclose ITAR-controlled technical data to foreign nationals among whom were, of course, themselves.

The criminal complaint filed back in June, which served as the basis for Su’s arrest, contains some fascinating details.  First, it appears that access was gained to the defense contractors’ systems by sending emails to employees of the contractors containing infected attachments or links to infected websites that installed malware on the systems which allowed the hackers to control the systems, to view files on the system, and to send the files back to themselves.   Interestingly, the files were then transferred to hop points or servers in Hong Kong and Macao and from there were physically carried back into the PRC.   Interestingly, it appears that as the Internet becomes easier for security agencies to surveil, modern spies have started to revert back to older methods of spycraft such as smuggling documents, document drops, and, conceivably, even encrypted Morse code shortwave radio transmissions.  One wonders if the NSA is training folks in Morse Code and invisible ink.  What’s next?  Microdots?

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How Not To Smuggle Guns To Nigeria

Posted by at 8:38 pm on June 26, 2014
Category: Arms ExportCriminal Penalties

Mugshot of Sheriff Olaleran Mohammed [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Sheriff Mohammed

A federal jury in Minnesota, on June 16, convicted a naturalized U.S. citizen on charges that he illegally exported guns to Nigeria without a license. At issue were eight handguns that Sheriff Olaleran Mohammed stuffed into brown paper bag and placed between the seats of a 1998 Mercury that was being shipped via a cargo ship container to Nigeria. Spanish police discovered the guns when the ship called in Valencia, Spain, on its way to Lagos.

The trial brief filed by Mr. Mohammed’s lawyers before the jury trial gives a pretty clear idea why he was ultimately convicted. First, the brief tries to rely on the exemption in section 123.17(c) of the ITAR for temporary exports of not more than three nonautomatic weapons for personal use. Since there were eight guns in the paper bag in the Mercury, I guess the idea here was that the defendant could invoke the exemption three times to cover his eight guns, or something like that.

The other argument forwarded by the defendant’s trial brief on the export charge is that Mr. Mohammed had no idea whatsoever that it was illegal to export firearms for personal use to Nigeria without a license. Which is, of course, why he stuffed them in a paper bag and hid them in a 1998 Mercury he was sending to Nigeria.

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Russian Export Defendant Slapped on Wrist, Told to Leave U.S.

Posted by at 5:35 pm on January 31, 2014
Category: Arms ExportCriminal Penalties

By  Sgt. Scott M. Biscuiti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons in November, this blog reported on the indictment of a Russian citizen, Roman Kvinikadze, on charges that he attempted to export military thermal imaging sights without the required State Department license. As we noted then, the indictment created a bit of a diplomatic row between the United States and Russia, with Russia claiming that federal agents knowingly provoked Kvinikadze to violate the law and then lured him into the United States to arrest him. The Russian pique was directed at statements by the undercover U.S. agent to Kvinikadze that the sights required an export license but that if the license was unavailable there were other ways he could ship the sights to Kvinikadze. Although these facts might not support the narrowly construed entrapment defense, they can easily been seen as grounds for a diplomatic contretemps.

Well, the Russian irritation seems to have been heard loud and clear in Washington. Last week, a federal judge sentenced Kvinikadze, who had entered a guilty plea, to time served and a $7500 fine. He also ordered Kvinikadze to leave the United States, something that Kvinikadze was no doubt happy to do with or without a judicial order requiring him to do so. Kvinikadze had been in custody for 147 days so time served was significantly less than would have been required under federal sentencing guidelines which would have specified a minimum sentence of 33 to 41 months. News reports stated that the prosecutor requested the reduced sentence, and the judge justified it by stating that “Kvinikadze may not have fully appreciated the potential damage to relations between the U.S. and Russia if the sights had fallen into wrong hands.”

When I reviewed the docket to see if I could find anything else to justify this lenient sentence, I discovered that the Presentence Report, the Presentence Report Recommendation and an Addendum to the Presentence Report were all sealed and unavailable for review. Although there are a number of reasons that this could be the case, including the possibility of the discussion of some extremely private matters involving Kvinikadze, my money is that these were sealed because they have a discussion of the diplomatic ramifications of the sentence, something that prosecutors and courts are loathe to reveal. So when Kvinikadze is safely back in Russia, I’m going to bet he sends an effusive thank you note to his BFF Vladimir Putin.

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From Russia with … Weapon Sights and a Diplomatic Row?

Posted by at 5:54 pm on November 11, 2013
Category: Arms ExportCriminal PenaltiesDDTCUSML

By  Sgt. Scott M. Biscuiti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, a federal judge in Wyoming set trial for February of next year for Russian Roman Kvinikadze, who was arrested this August on charges that he attempted to export thermal imaging weapon sights without a required license from the U.S. State Department.

The story of Kvinikadze’s arrest began last year when he contacted an undercover Department of Homeland Security agent on the Chinese e-commerce site,  It is unclear from court documents what the DHS agent posted on to attract Kvinikadze, but it was enough for Kvinikadze to introduce himself as an aspiring hunting store owner that wanted a quote for weapon sights.  According to the criminal complaint, Kvinikadze eventually traveled to a Las Vegas gun show where the DHS agent told him that the sights required a U.S. export license but “there were other ways to ship the weapon sights without a license.”  Kvinikadze apparently expressed continued interest and later went to meet the agent in Wyoming, where he was arrested.

According to Russian media on Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s human rights commissioner described Kvinikadze’s arrest as a “kind of American law enforcement agency approach to Russian citizens [that] is becoming increasingly disrespectful of international law and bilateral agreements, including the 1999 agreement on mutual legal assistance in investigating crimes.”  He also reportedly described Kvinikadze as “being knowingly provoked to violate the law as he was lured into the United States [to be arrested].”

The Russian government appears to be intimating Kvinikadze’s entrapment defense at trial.  Although a successful entrapment defense is difficult and complex, Kvinikadze appears to have a better chance than previous foreign nationals engaging with undercover U.S. agents online.  In September, we discussed the arrest of Patrick Campbell, the foreign national arrested at JFK airport for, among other things, having yellowcake uranium in his luggage.  In that case, again beginning on, Campbell responded to a DHS agent’s solicitation for yellowcake and informed the agent that he could “handle” any U.S. export restrictions that concerned the agent in shipping uranium to Iran.

In Kvinikadze’s case, critical facts are the reverse: Kvinikadze found the DHS agent purporting to be a seller and the DHS agent was the one who informed Kvinikadze of  a required U.S. export license and “ways” to avoid getting one.  The criminal complaint is, however, peppered with suggestions that Kvinikadze was a sophisticated buyer and was not lured, but rather conspired, to export the sights illegally.

What may be Kvinikadze’s best defense is the Russian government’s support.  The Russian human rights commissioner has reportedly also said that “[Kvinikadze’s] situation is being closely followed by the Russian Foreign Ministry,” and that after Kvinikadze’s arrest, “our consular workers got in touch with him and with the prison authorities in Nebraska where he is being held … We will continue providing consular-legal assistance to our compatriot.”

There are, of course, a host of reasons why U.S. law enforcement looks for foreign threats on foreign websites where activity threatening U.S. security interests is taking place.  However, how such operations are conducted as well as their frequency and targets have, as this case shows, diplomatic ramifications.

Based on the Russian government’s response, one has to wonder how the United States would respond if the weapon sights were looking the other way.  How Russia’s response to Kvinikadze affects U.S. law enforcement strategy remains to be seen.  In the meantime, if sites like are open for undercover U.S. law enforcement, any U.S. business should be keenly aware that other countries are likely doing the same.

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Lessons in Spycraft: Don’t Try This at Home

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

Source [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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