Archive for the ‘Wassenaar’ Category



Export Nickel, Pay 14 Million Nickels

Posted by at 10:33 pm on November 17, 2009
Category: BISNonproliferationWassenaar

K25 Building at the East Tennessee Technology ParkNovamet Specialty Products Corporation recently agreed to pay $700,000 to the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) for 15 unlicensed shipments of nickel powder worth about $80,000. According to the charging documents, the powder was classified as ECCN 1C240.a. It does not appear from the charging documents that the violation was voluntarily disclosed by Novamet to the United States.

You may wonder why such a large fine for nickel powder. Well there is a partial answer to that, and the hint to the answer is the picture of the Oak Ridge gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment facility that illustrates this post. Gaseous diffusion enrichment requires a barrier that is used to separate isotopes of uranium, the goal being an output of fissionable uranium such as U-235. Apparently sintered nickel powder serves this purpose well. Sintered powder is powder that has been formed into a mass by high temperature and pressure alone without melting the powder. After this process, nickel creates a solid porous structure that permits the right isotopes to pass through and the others to stay behind, although it requires a multi-step cascading procedure. Sintered nickel powder was used as such a barrier in the gaseous diffusion plant at Oak Ridge.

Barrier technologies are, naturally, classified. But the description of ECCN 1C240.a probably gives a potential nuclear proliferator a good head start in developing a sintered nickel powder barrier. To be controlled under that ECCN, the nickel powder must be 99.0% pure and must have a mean particle size of less than 10 micrometers. I didn’t check each of the Novamet nickel powder exports alleged by BIS but five of them involved Novamet’s 4SP-10 powder, which judging from this specification sheet falls well within the parameters of ECCN 1C240.a.

That being said, and with requisite acknowledgment that this product could be used in uranium enrichment, there is certainly a foreign availability issue to consider here. The U.S. doesn’t mine or produce significant quantities of nickel. Russia is the largest producer, followed by Canada, Australia, and Indonesia. And nickel powder isn’t controlled under the Wassenaar Arrangement meaning that these countries can freely export nickel powder meeting the specifications described in ECCN 1C240.a. So, a $700,000 fine against Novamet seems far in excess of any injury that the exports might have caused.

UPDATE: Ed Fox, from DOE’s NNSA, points out in the comments that nickel powder is controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Indeed, it is listed on that group’s Guidelines for Transfers of Nuclear-Related Dual-Use Equipment, Materials, Software, and Related Technology under Category 2.C.16.a. That would prevent exports by Russia, Canada and Australia of nickel powder to certain countries. Singapore, another major producer of nickel, however, is not a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, although I can’t determine whether it has manufacturers who export nickel powder.

[P.S. The brief I mentioned earlier as my excuse for not posting more has been filed, so I should be on a more regular posting schedule.]

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Copyright © 2009 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Can Locke Unlock the Grip of U.S. Export Controls?

Posted by at 8:33 pm on October 1, 2009
Category: BISWassenaar

Commerce Secretary Gary LockeAt today’s Update Conference in Washington, D.C., Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced a sweeping vision for reform of U.S. export laws:

First, we should consider eliminating certain dual-use export license requirements for allies and partner nations — consistent with statutory and international obligations.

Of course, the rub here is what is meant by “consistent with . . . international obligations”? Obviously, this is a reference to the Wassenaar Arrangement, under which the United States has agreed to impose export controls on items on the “Lists of Dual-Use Goods and Technologies” made a part of that arrangement. But, as made clear in the 2006 “Best Practices Guidelines for the Licensing of Items on the Basic List and Sensitive List of Dual-Use Goods and Technologies,” members of the Arrangement are free to establish general licenses or license exceptions which permit the unlimited export of specified goods on the lists to specified destinations. The Guidelines, however, state that the member state should still require companies exporting under those general licenses or license exceptions to keep sufficient records of these exports to permit verification that any terms and conditions of the general licenses or license exceptions have been complied with.

Second, I’ve asked BIS to explore implementing a fast-track process for the review of dual-use export licenses for other key countries that do not pose a significant threat and have a strong history of export control compliance.

This is a laudable goal in theory that may be difficult to achieve in practice. Often the imposition of tighter deadlines for licensing decisions results in more applications being returned without action for minor errors — errors that would previously have been ignored — just so that the licensing officer can stay within the required time frame. That certainly seems to have been the result of the shortened processing guidelines for commodity jurisdiction requests filed with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls.

And, of course we will continue to scour the Export Administration Regulations and de-list those items and technologies that no longer pose a threat to national security.

Here the Wassenaar Arrangement may prove to be somewhat more of an obstacle. Under the Arrangement, the United States is obligated to control the export of items on the Wassenaar Lists and the overwhelming number of commodities on the Commerce Control List (“CCL”) are also on the Wassenaar Lists. The United States can only really remove those common items from the CCL if it convinces other Wassenaar members to remove the same items from the Wassenaar lists at one of the plenary sessions held under the Arrangement.

Of course, there are all those items in Category 0 of the CCL that aren’t on the Wassenaar Lists, so we can look forward, perhaps, to the immediate removal of “horses by sea” (ECCN 0A980) and “plastic handcuffs” (ECCN 0A982), otherwise known as plastic cable ties, from the CCL.

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Radar That Wasn’t on the Radar

Posted by at 5:12 pm on December 18, 2006
Category: Wassenaar

Illustration of a passive radar systemThe December 2006 Wassenaar Plenary made a number of changes to the Waasenaar control lists, and as I noted on Friday, I’ve been going through the changes to find anything of interest. One change of interest (particularly to Lockheed Martin) is the addition of a new category 5.a.1.g. which controls:

Passive Coherent Location systems or equipment specially designed for detecting and tracking moving objects by measuring reflections of ambient radio frequency emissions, supplied by non-radar transmitters.

Passive coherent location systems are more commonly known as passive radar systems. Unlike conventional radar which relies on a radio signal transmitted by the radar system, a passive radar system uses radio signals by other existing transmission sources, typically television and radio stations. Lockheed Martin’s Silent Sentry is a passive radar system which Lockheed began to sell in 1999.

As receiving equipment and the necessary signal processing equipment have become smaller, cheaper and more powerful, passive radar represents a highly-mobile, extremely sensitive and almost completely covert method for tracking moving objects such as airplanes and helicopters. Moreover, passive radar systems can detect low-flying stealth aircraft.

Frankly, we are a little surprised that it took this long for such a technology to wind up on an export control list.

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Copyright © 2006 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Who Says -158°C Is Warm?

Posted by at 6:23 pm on December 15, 2006
Category: Wassenaar

HTS in liquid nitrogen levitates magnetThe changes adopted at the December 2006 Plenary of Wassenaar are now posted on the Wassenaar website, and we’ve started to go through them to look for things of interest. The first thing to catch our eye was to see that Wassenaar had moved into the 20th century and has discovered high temperature superconductors — materials which the scientific community discovered in the late 1980s.

The revised list includes a new category 1.C.5.c which covers composite conductors consisting of one or more “superconductive” filaments which remain “superconductive” above 115 K (-158.16oC). Materials that exhibit superconductivity at temperatures over 90 K (-183°C) are traditionally considered high-temperature superconductors. This, of course, leads to the joke that no physicist can resist when writing about high-temperature superconductors that “high temperatures are relative.” Now you know why MIT is not a hotbed of stand-up comedy.

This is all very interesting, you say, but where’s the dual-use? Normally superconductivity is considered useful for magnetic effects (MRIs and floating trains and the like) and efficient energy transmission, none of which seem to have significant military application. However, this interesting article from RF Design Magazine describes at least one significant military application of HTS materials in military surveillance electronics. Short version: superconductors allow filters that will reject side-band frequencies without reducing frequency strength thereby vastly extending the range of surveillance receivers. Which is one of the reason why even high-temperature superconductors are cool.

(Rimshot. “Thank You. You’ve been great. Be sure to try the veal.”)

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Daewoo Head Indicted for Illegal Exports

Posted by at 3:40 pm on December 6, 2006
Category: Arms ExportWassenaar

Lee Tae Yong at Myanmar Ministry of DefenseLt-Gen Khin Nyunt receiving visiting President of Daewoo International Corporation Mr Lee Tae Yong and party at the Myanmar Ministry of Defence

According to a news item in today’s Korea Times, Lee Tae Yong, the President of Daewoo International, was indicted by South Korea for illegal exports of military items to Myanmar (Burma). The indictment of the Daewoo chief was one of a group of multiple indictments which included indictments of seven companies and fourteen officials from those companies.

The indictment alleged the export of production facilities and weapons technology to Myanmar in violation of the law on exports of strategic goods. According to the prosecutor for the case, the companies had “made contracts with Myanmar to export plant facilities, machines and technology information which can be used to make various cannon weapons.” Apparently before the companies and officials were collared by Korean authorities, 90 percent of the weapons-making facilities had been completed and 90 percent of contract funds had been dispensed to the Korean companies.

South Korea is part of the Wassenaar Arrangement pursuant to which it is committed to restrict exports of military and dual-use items.

The South Korean authorities could have obtained their first hints of the illegal exports of Daewoo through a simple Internet search. On February 6, 2002, Mr. Lee visited the Myanmar Ministry of Defense. His visit was captured by Myanmar Television, and a picture (shown above) and a report of that visit were printed in The New Light of Myanmar, the official newspaper of the Myanmar government. That New Light news story and photograph were then made available on the government’s website. Next time Mr. Lee attempts to become an international arms dealer for sanctioned regimes, he might want to make his official visits to his customers a little more surreptitiously.

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Copyright © 2006 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)