Archive for the ‘Criminal Penalties’ Category


Sep

19

America’s Worst Spy Sentenced


Posted by at 11:52 pm on September 19, 2017
Category: Criminal PenaltiesDDTCITAR

DOJ Interview Video of Gregory Allen Justice [Public Domain - Work of U.S. Government]Yesterday, Gregory Allen Justice, a former Boeing engineer, who tried to sell satellite information to undercover agents he believed were Russian spies, was sentenced to five years in jail. I reported on the case previously here, noting that Justice was playing spy to get money for an online girlfriend (who had catfished him with sexy photos of another woman and to whom he was sending gifts, such as charcoal grills, from Amazon). Justice, who admitted he was under the spell of  the TV show “The Americans,” Jason Bourne and James Bond (and had even taken online spy courses), demonstrated his intimate knowledge of spy craft when he gave a receipt to the fake spies for the money they paid him after he made his first drop. Seriously. Worst spy ever. He might as well have posted pictures of the drop on Facebook — oh wait, that wouldn’t have been a problem because Russian spies apparently can post on Facebook without anyone noticing.

 

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Copyright © 2017 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Sep

13

Beware the Smiley Face!


Posted by at 6:06 pm on September 13, 2017
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

Camellia George via http://blog.venmo.com/2015/10/20/introducing-camellia-george-kah-meel-ya-head-of-product-development-1 [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Parisa Mohamadi

A recently unsealed criminal complaint alleges that Parisa Mohamadi, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, was responsible for exports of approximately $3 million of goods from the United States to Iran between 2010 and 2012. The fact pattern alleged in the indictment is a familiar one: the items, requested by Iranian buyers, were purchased by Mohamadi in the United States and shipped to a free zone company she incorporated in Dubai and then were transshipped to Iran from there.

Of course, there is no criminal violation without criminal intent. And in these transshipment fact patterns, where the shipment from the U.S. to Dubai would not require a license (if considered alone) and the shipment from Dubai to Iran was also one that was legal under UAE law, it is conceivable (indeed fairly likely) that the exporter may think that this shipment route is legal. (Remember we live in a country where 7 percent of the population believes that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.)

The criminal complaint understands this issue and tries to forward proof of Ms. Mohamadi’s criminal intent.  Truth be told, the government’s proof of criminal intent by Ms. Mohamadi can only be described as, well, completely whack-a-doodle.

The first “proof” cited by the complaint is this statement made by Mohamadi in an email:

I KNOW WHICH COUNTRIES ARE EMBARGO AND SANCTION AND WHICH COUNTRY WILL BE EMBARGO AND SANCTION, I AM AS SHIP OWNER, SO I KNOW HOW IS SHIPPING WORKS TO FIXED THE SHIPMENTS IN ADVANCE THUS DO NOT WORRY FOR THIS DELIVERY SCHEDULE, I NEVER SHOOT MY SELF.

The complaint adds a snarky footnote pointing out that the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are those of Ms. Mohamadi alone and not an indication of any illiteracy on the part of the investigating DHS agent who signed the affidavit. This snark might have been justified but for the agent’s reference elsewhere in the complaint to an “I-Phone” (for iPhone) and multiple references to “U.S. Principal Party of Interest” (instead of “U.S. Principal Party in Interest”). Of course, nothing in this difficult-to-parse statement is inconsistent with a belief that the shipment was legal if it went through Dubai first.  As Ms. Mohamadi tried to make clear, she never shoots herself.

But the agent saved the best “proof” for last (with my bold and italics added):

Similarly, on November 1, 2011, Individual D from Iranian Business A emailed MOHAMADI: “How are you. I am at the sanction solution and money transfer conference in the university. So far I we doing it like no one does, very happy to be here, of course I am the youngest here, and and we do it like no one. That’s what separate us from the others.” MOHAMADI responded: “Good to hear that we are the best but off course in knew that already.” This was followed by three smiley faces.

The best I can tell the agent believes that the smiley faces are proof of criminal intent because nothing else in Mohamadi’s quoted statement about “being the best” even comes close. You might recall that FBI agents get specific training in smiley faces and their meaning, so I suppose DHS agents get that training as well.

And that’s it. That’s what the criminal complaint cites to prove that the defendant knew that shipping items from the U.S through a foreign company in Dubai to Iran was illegal:  three smiley faces and a desire not to shoot herself.  Maybe that’s why Ms. Mohamadi doesn’t have much of a smiley face in her mug shot.

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Aug

9

If A U.S. Attorney Can’t Get Export Law Right, Why Should Anyone Else?


Posted by at 6:14 pm on August 9, 2017
Category: Criminal PenaltiesSyria

Orange Check Cashing via Google Maps [Fair Use]Rasheed Al Jijakli, the owner of Orange Check Cashing in Orange, California, has been indicted for illegal exports of tactical flashlights, rifle scopes, cameras, radios, voltmeters and laser boresighters to Syria. According to the indictment, Jijakli allegedly took the items with him on flights to Turkey, crossed the border from Turkey to Syria and gave the items to rebel groups in Syria. He was arrested on August 1 and released on a $250,000 bond pending trial.

Of course, for the criminal indictment to succeed the U.S. Government must prove that Jijakli knew that supplying these items to persons in Syria was illegal. The indictment alleges that Jijakli told an un-indicted co-conspirator “about a technique he used to smuggle goods into Turkey without being detected by law enforcement.” It also alleges that he asked the same unindicted co-conspirator if he “needed an alias in the event law enforcement questioned [him] about the purchases.” The trial and any conviction may well turn on whether a jury decides the un-indicted co-conspirator is telling the truth about these statements by Jijakli.

But the prosecution’s efforts to prove that Jijakli understood the complexities of export law sufficiently to have criminal intent will be hindered by the prosecution’s own inability to understand the relevant export laws. Paragraph 6 of the indictment says this:

6. With certain limited exceptions not applicable here, U.S. sanctions against Syria prohibited, among other things, the export,
re-export, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, of U.S.-origin goods from the United States or by a United States person wherever
located, to Syria without prior authorization from the Secretary of the Treasury.

Nope. The Syrian Sanctions Regulations administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) in the Treasury Department do not prohibit the export of goods to Syria. Section 542.207 which regulates exports to Syria only prohibits unlicensed exports of services from the United States or by a U.S. person. The export of goods to Syria is instead controlled by the Export Administration Regulations. Only a license from BIS is required for export of goods to Syria; no license from OFAC or the Secretary of Treasury, as the indictment would have it, is required.

If a prosecutor with a law degree can’t get U.S. export laws right, how can we expect a guy who owns a check cashing place in a strip mall to get it right?

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Jul

19

Why One of the Swapped Prisoners Did Not Return to Iran.


Posted by at 9:55 pm on July 19, 2017
Category: Criminal PenaltiesDDTCITAR

Nima Golestaneh Mug Shot [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Nima Golestaneh

In January 2016 the United States and Iran engaged in a prisoner swap. None of the freed prisoners returned to Iran, instead they all chose to remain in the United States, including Nima Golestaneh, the only Iranian national in the group. (The remainder were dual U.S.-Iranian citizens). Golestaneh, who had been nabbed in, and extradited from, Turkey, had been convicted of a scheme to hack into Arrow Tech in Vermont and send its ITAR-controlled software back to Iran.

Now we have a pretty good idea why he may have been selected for a pardon and why he decided that going back to Iran might not have been such a good idea. Yesterday, two Iranians, Mohammed Ajily and Mohammed Rezakhah were added by OFAC to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (the “SDN List”) and the Department of Justice announced that an indictment against the two had been unsealed. The indictment reveals that Ajily and Rezakhah were Golestaneh’s co-conspirators in the hacking scheme, and it seems certain that Golestaneh made a deal and dropped the dime on Ajily and Rezakhah.

Both Ajily and Rezakhah are currently in Iran and probably have no current plans to visit Disneyland or anywhere else outside Iran. It’s also safe to assume that Golestaneh would not be welcomed with open arms should he turn up in Iran. In fact, that would be an instance of going from the frying pan (a U.S. jail) into the fire (an Iranian one).

The indictment details Golestaneh’s role in the hacking conspiracy. Apparently his job was to procure servers in Canada and the Netherlands. These enabled Rezakhah to download the Arrow Tech software without using an IP address from Iran, which likely would have been blocked by Arrow Tech. The software would not run without a hardware dongle from Arrow Tech, and Arrow Tech informed foreign customers that they would need an export license to obtain the dongle. That dongle not doubt contained the digital key needed to decrypt the program and allow it to run. It looks like Rezakhah hacked into Arrow Tech’s servers to obtain the digital key needed to decrypt the program.

Of course, it’s not just Rezakhah who has a problem in this scenario. If in fact, if Arrow Tech allowed foreign download of ITAR-controlled encrypted software without a license, that was arguably problematic. DDTC has taken the position that items are exported even if encrypted. And, if there is support for that position by DDTC, it can be found in this case, which demonstrates that there is always some possibility that the encryption will be broken. (It now appears that Arrow Tech distributes the software only by optical media and not by download). One has to wonder if the failure of DDTC to adopt rules like those adopted by BIS which exempt encrypted items from the definition of export is, at least in part, the result of what happened in this case.

One other thing bears noting here, namely, the most amusing irrelevant statement ever put in a criminal indictment. For some reason, the indictment notes that Ajily, Rezakhah’s co-conspirator “received certificates of appreciation for his work from several of the Iranian government and military entities.”   Seriously, he got certificates he could frame and hang on his office wall.  Awesome.  That was a clear violation of the law that forbids receiving certificates of appreciation from Iran.  I have to imagine that this factoid comes from Golestaneh who, when he was singing to the DOJ, said something on the order of  “Ajily got certificates and all I got was this lousy jumpsuit.”

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