Archive for the ‘General’ Category



Let My Field Trips Go

Posted by at 11:01 pm on December 14, 2015
Category: General

Full Lab Close by NSCL [By Permission], via Flickr [cropped]
ABOVE: National Supercon-
ducting Cyclotron Laboratory

A Lansing high school field trip to Michigan State University’s National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory was just cancelled* and the school is blaming this on the Bureau of Industry and Security.  According to the school, the field trip was cancelled when the school received the permission slip from NSCL and saw this:

“I also certify that this minor is not a citizen/resident of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan or Syria.”

The school district superintendent said that she believed that the restriction violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination based on national origin.

Let’s start with that. They apparently don’t teach civics in Lansing. National origin and citizenship are different things. You can discriminate based on citizenship status but not on national origin. A naturalized U.S. citizen cannot be treated differently because he or she was born in Cuba or China or the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

But going a little further, what’s up with this restriction? The NSCL apparently told the school that the restriction comes from the Bureau of Industry and Security. This means, given the singling out of nationals from AT countries, that something in the lab must be classified under one of the 990 series of ECCNs which are controlled only for AT reasons, and NSCL is concerned about giving access to that equipment by nationals of AT countries.

Indeed, the minor permission form that caused the brouhaha can be found here and does indeed have the quoted language. But the Tour Certification Form, also required by NSCL to be signed by the tour group, has this curious language:

I have made the members of the party aware that certain technology in FRIB/NSCL falls under fundamental research exclusions from export control within the MSU setting of a domestic research university, but is subject to control elsewhere.

If the concern is access to series 990 equipment, the fundamental research exclusion is irrelevant. Additionally, the notion that information that is fundamental research if disclosed at the university, but is not if it is disclosed elsewhere is just wrong. Once it is fundamental research, it is released from controls everywhere and to everyone. The information does not stop being fundamental research once it leaves the campus.

But more fundamentally, even if the lab equipment is controlled, would the NSCL be transferring technology to a bunch of high school kids that visited the lab? Remember that technology is defined as information required for the development, production or use of the equipment. Certainly, nothing that kids would see on a field trip would permit them to develop or produce the equipment. Nor would it likely help them to use the equipment given that “use” is defined as operation, installation (including on-site installation), maintenance (checking), repair, overhaul and refurbishing. Unless the high school kids could figure out how to operate the equipment after seeing it, there’s no way that they would be able to install, maintain, repair, overhaul or refurbish it.

So, I say, let the kids go — even if they are Cuban exchange students. Just make sure you don’t tell them how to install, maintain, repair, overhaul and refurbish the cyclotron (or whatever equipment is causing the concern) while they are there.

*WARNING: the newspaper requires you to answer an obnoxious survey in order to read the article.

Permalink Comments (4)

Bookmark and Share

Copyright © 2015 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)



UBS Fined by OFAC For Dealing with Secret SDN

Posted by at 9:40 pm on August 27, 2015
Category: General

UBS by Martin Abegglen [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped]The Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) whacked UBS AG, a Swiss bank, with a $1,700,100 penalty today. (That extra $100 is there to prove that OFAC reached this penalty in a super-accurate and completely scientific fashion.) The fine arises from UBS processing 222 transactions of unidentified value for an individual whose name was kept secret by the bank from OFAC but who was apparently designated as a global terrorist on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (the “SDN List”).

Although everyone understands why the Santa in Secret Santa is a secret, it may not be immediately clear why the SDN in a Secret SDN is clear. Apparently, Swiss law protects the names of global terrorists as well as those of ordinary customers. In other words, Switzerland is more interested in protecting the revenue of its banks than the safety of everyone else in the world. Frankly, if OFAC stood up to this nonsense and said it would fine UBS the maximum penalty (at least $250,000 times 222 violations which comes to $55.5 million) if it didn’t cough up the name of the SDN in question, well, even I might have said that was justified.

There’s another oddity in the OFAC release explaining the penalty. Obviously since the case was all about a secret SDN, the only way that OFAC could have learned about it without annoying the Swiss government is through a voluntary disclosure by UBS.

OFAC has determined that although UBS identified all of the apparent violations, the disclosures are not voluntary self-disclosures within the scope of OFAC’s definition under the Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines, 31 C.F.R. part 501, app. A, because they were substantially similar to another apparent violation of which OFAC was already aware.

It’s rather difficult to get any idea what this means in the context that OFAC has no idea as to the identity of the SDN involved. So what does substantially similar mean? That OFAC had knowledge that UBS was supporting another SDN? Or does it mean that OFAC was aware that UBS had processed blocked funds for the Cuban government? Apparently, OFAC is saying that if it knows that you ever violated any OFAC rule you have no right to voluntarily disclose a separate and unrelated violation of that or a similar rule.

Still, between the Swiss and OFAC in this situation, I’m voting for OFAC.

Permalink Comments Off on UBS Fined by OFAC For Dealing with Secret SDN

Bookmark and Share

Copyright © 2015 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)



Guns and Meat: More on the Midamar Case

Posted by at 9:58 am on August 20, 2015
Category: General

Bobcat Skid Loader via[Fair Use]I have wondered about the persistent zeal of the DoJ in pursuing a criminal case against Bill Aossey, the owner of Midamar Corp., for irregularities in meat exports that may or may not have caused those exports to violate a ban imposed by several countries on the import of non-halal meat products. You can read more about the prosecution of Mr. Aossey here, here, and here. There have been persistent rumors that somehow or other Aossey was involved in smuggling arms to Lebanon. Now we know where those rumors came from.

On Wednesday, a Cedar Rapids newspaper announced that various members of the Herz family, who apparently had been employed at Midamar and were friends with Aossey, were indicted for, among other things, unlicensed exports of firearms to Lebanon. The indictment alleges that the arms were hidden by the Herz defendants inside Bobcat skid loaders that were  placed in containers  shipped from Midamar’s loading docks.

This issue apparently came up after Bill Aossey’s conviction when the prosecution argued that Aossey should be jailed pending sentencing. They based their argument on his association with the Herz family and the use of Midamar facilities by Herz to engage in the illegal gun exports. Aossey claimed that the containers, which belonged to the Herz defendants, was also being used by Midamar to ship relief items to Lebanon and that he did not know that guns were hidden in the skid loaders. The prosecution, on the other hand, said this:

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy admitted there wasn’t direct information tying Aossey to buying or smuggling guns. But he argued it was difficult to believe Aossey didn’t know about it.

There is a compliance lesson here hidden among the meat, guns, skid loaders and relief items: don’t share shipping containers, even with your best friends.

Permalink Comments Off on Guns and Meat: More on the Midamar Case

Bookmark and Share

Copyright © 2015 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)



It’s August, So All the WSJ Editors Must Be in the Hamptons

Posted by at 6:34 pm on August 18, 2015
Category: General

Wall Street Journal Printing by Neon Tommy [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped]Welcome to Pick-on-the-Wall-Street-Journal Week, which we have just declared because the once-fabled publication has, for the second time in two days, had an unfortunate run-in with fact-checking and U.S. export laws. From a piece titled “Iranian Art Lovers Await Accord’s Benefits,” reporter Kelly Crow says this:

For decades following Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, U.S. collectors wishing to visit Iran needed a travel license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which gave out a handful of licenses a year to those seeking to visit Iran and bring home “informational materials.”

Both travel to, and imports from, Iran were banned for the brief period from April 17, 1980, pursuant to Executive Order 12211, until January 23, 1981, when Executive Order 12282 revoked the travel and import bans imposed by President Carter in Executive Order 12211. Thereafter, no license has ever been required to travel to Iran.

Imports from Iran were not banned again until 1987 when President Reagan issued Executive Order 12613 in 1987. Shortly thereafter the Berman Amendment was passed in 1988 as section 2501(b) of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988. Under the Berman Amendment, “informational materials” could be imported from Iran. OFAC guidance provides that artwork classified under HTSUS 9701, 9702 and 9703 qualifies as “informational materials” eligible for importation from Iran without a license.

So, to summarize, licenses were not required “for decades” in order to travel to Iran to bring back artwork. A license to travel to Iran and to bring back artwork was required for less than one year between 1980 and 1981. Importing artwork from (but not travel to) Iran was banned thereafter only between October 29, 1987, and August 23, 1988.  After that, artwork could be freely imported from Iran without license as informational materials.

Permalink Comments (2)

Bookmark and Share

Copyright © 2015 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)



More Export Controls Because, Er, Killer Robots

Posted by at 6:07 pm on August 17, 2015
Category: General

Trumpet-Playing Robot by Angela N. [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped]

Wall Street Journal tech writer Christopher Mims has a really bad idea today: impose U.S. “export controls on commercial robotics and drone technology.” Mr. Mims, who was trained as a neuroscientist, can, I suppose, be forgiven for not knowing much about export controls, but that still does not fully excuse such a ridiculous idea.

First, let’s start with his reason for imposing these export controls, which appears to have had its genesis in Mims spending too much time watching old Terminator flicks.

It’s inevitable, say the experts I talked to, that nonstate actors and rogue states will create killer robots once the underpinnings of this [commercial robotics and drone] technology become cheap and accessible, thanks to its commercial use.

Yes, but terrorists and rogue states can use mobile phones to detonate bombs remotely as well, and no one is suggesting that the way to solve this problem is to prevent the export of mobile phones and mobile phone technology.

Second, and most importantly, the notion that export controls would solve this problem is based on Mims’s notion that all technology of any value comes from the United States. If other countries have such technology, U.S. export controls won’t fix the problem and will simply disadvantage U.S. companies. On this point, Mims should read his own newspaper. The Wall Street Journal, only a few months back, noted that the biggest seller of commercial drones, the ones that Mims fears will be loaded with bombs by terrorists, is SZ DJI Technology Co., located in … are you ready? … China.

Permalink Comments (1)

Bookmark and Share

Copyright © 2015 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)