U.S. Sanctions on Russia Start with a Secret List

Posted by Clif Burns at 7:50 pm on March 6, 2014
Category: Economic SanctionsRussia Sanctions

Sevastopol, Crimea By Alexxx1979 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons White House issued an executive order this afternoon starting off the expected sanctions on Russia in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea. As anticipated, these sanctions involve targeted sanctions on certain individuals and entities involved in the invasion of Crimea, including travel bans and asset blocking.  Designated Crimean officials supporting the Russian actions will also subject to the order.

The order does not include a list of the particular officials subject to asset blocking, presumably because that list is being developed now. Neither is there a list of those subject to the travel ban, but that’s because the list is secret. Even sanctioned individuals, apparently, deserve a little privacy.

The New York Times reports that a “senior administration official” stated that just under a dozen persons are currently subject to the travel ban. Several are already in the United States and they will learn that they are on the list when their visas are revoked. The rest will learn that they are on the blacklist should they apply for a visa. It’s unclear how much deterrent impact such a secret blacklist will have on its targets.

Interestingly, the New York Times suggests that the executive order contains provisions that will eventually allow the names of those subject to visa bans to be made public. Frankly, I don’t see anything in the order which states this expressly or leads to such a conclusion. On the other hand, I am unaware of any federal law which would prohibit the disclosure of the names of non-U.S. citizens who will not be granted visas to travel to the United States. If anyone has an idea on where these foreign privacy rights come from, please let me know in the comments.

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Ignorance Is Indeed a Defense: NASA Ames Edition

Posted by Clif Burns at 6:06 pm on March 5, 2014
Category: DDTCDeemed ExportsITAR

Aerial View of NASA Ames Research Center [Public Domain]The NASA Office of Inspector General completed its investigation of unlicensed releases of ITAR-controlled technology to foreign nationals working at the Ames Research Center and — surprise! surprise! — it found no evidence of any violations of law. According to a summary of the OIG report, ITAR-controlled information was released without proper authorization to foreign nationals working at Ames. However, this was not a violation of law, just “poor judgment,” which is a nice way of saying that ignorance of the law can be a defense if you work at NASA and are being investigated by the NASA OIG. The full report was withheld because of privacy concerns, i.e., it mentioned the names, I would presume, of all the people running around at Ames and exercising poor judgment.

As they say on the car commercials: “Professional government workers exporting on closed course. Do not attempt this yourself.” In other words, “poor judgment” will not be enough to exonerate deemed exports in the private sector.

The reason for this all being just a lapse of judgment and not an export violation is this:

We … found significant disagreement between scientists and engineers at Ames and export control personnel at the Center and NASA Headquarters as to whether the work the foreign nationals were performing at Ames involved ITAR-controlled technology.

For you and me, such confusion means you need to file a Commodity Jurisdiction request with the State Department to clear things up. For NASA workers it means that export controls are hard and engineers can’t be blamed for getting hard questions wrong. This statement is somewhat incredible in the context of this finding in the report:

In addition, on two occasions a senior Ames manager inappropriately shared documents with unlicensed foreign nationals that contained ITAR markings or had been identified as containing ITAR-restricted information by NASA export control personnel.

But, yeah, everybody was still confused and disagreeing over whether this stuff was ITAR-controlled or not.

Then we have the part of the report which suggests that Professor Roth probably wishes he worked at NASA and not the University of Tennessee.

We also found that a foreign national working at Ames inappropriately traveled overseas with a NASA-issued laptop containing ITAR-restricted information. Even though the foreign national had an ITAR license at the time, the regulations forbid taking such export-controlled information out of the country. However, we were unable to substantiate concerns that the foreign national shared ITAR-protected information while overseas.

Professor Roth is sitting in a federal correctional facility in part because he carried a laptop with ITAR-controlled data to China without any evidence whatsoever that he even opened those files on his computer while in China. I think this is what some people might call a double standard.

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There’s a Nice Knock-Down Argument for You

Posted by Clif Burns at 5:16 pm on February 28, 2014
Category: BISDeemed Exports

Intevac HQ [Fair Use]It should come as little surprise that federal agencies, whether they sit on a wall or not, believe that a word means what they “choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” So when the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) says that “visual inspection” and “oral exchanges” mean “giving a system password,” well, you can wring your hands about the violence to the English language involved in such a semantic contortion and you can make obscure references to Humpty Dumpty. But that’s about it.

In a recently announced civil penalty imposed by BIS against Santa Clara based Intevac, the enforcement folks at BIS trampled over their own definitions in order to justify a $115,000 fine against the Company for giving a password to a foreign national employee that would allow him to access hard disk technology controlled by ECCN 3E001. Specifically at issue were drawings, blueprints and part numbers that resided on a company server. According to the charging documents

Intevac released the technology . . . by providing the Russian national employee with a login identification code and a password that enabled him to view, print and create attachments.

Now let’s take a moment to do something adventurous; let’s actually look at BIS’s definition in § 734.2(b)(3) of the EAR for “release of technology of software:”

Technology or software is “released” for export through:

(i) Visual inspection by foreign nationals of U.S.-origin equipment and facilities;

(ii) Oral exchanges of information in the United States or abroad; or

(iii) The application to situations abroad of personal knowledge or technical experience acquired in the United States.

Clearly, simply giving out a password that enables access to a technology is neither a visual inspection or oral exchange of the technology. Unless the password is actually used by the foreign national to access the technology itself, something the charging documents rather coyly refuse to assert, there has been no release of technology. Granted the language here is ambiguous and perhaps the Russian national did see the technology at issue, but saying that the password “enabled him to view, print and create attachments” is an odd way of saying that.

The background here is that the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (“DDTC”) has, at least since the Consent Agreement in the General Motors case, taken the position that with respect to ITAR-controlled technical data the “ability to access” such data is a deemed export whether actually accessed or not. This does equal violence to the definition of export in § 120.17 of the ITAR which refers to “disclosing (including oral or visual disclosure) or transferring technical data to a foreign person.” Again, to ordinary speakers of the English language permitting access and disclosing are two different things. Perhaps BIS in the Intevac case is just exhibiting a bad case of me-too-itis and does not want anyone to think that DDTC is rougher and tougher on deemed export issues than BIS.

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O, Canada! The Harper Government Solidifies Position as a Sanctions Hawk

Posted by George Murphy at 6:17 pm on February 26, 2014
Category: General

By Jamie McCaffrey from Ottawa, Canada (RCMP Sunset Ceremony 2012) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander suggested this week on Canadian television that Canadian sanctions against Russia were a possibility if Russia was to support violent strife in Ukraine.  Although Alexander has since declined to comment on specific sanctions against Russia and other “hypothetical scenarios,” the idea that Canada would sanction Russia in some form should not come as a surprise.

Canada has quietly developed an economic sanctions regime that may be the world’s most aggressive outside the United States.  Case in point is Iran.  While the United States and the EU are at the negotiation table with Iran, Canada has stood steadfastly by its sanctions, which now include a comprehensive trade embargo as of last May.

Some in the Canadian press have pointed out that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s alliance with Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Harper a “great friend,” is the reason for increasing sanctions against Iran.  But Canadian sanctions remain aggressive in other parts of the world as well.  Canada, unlike the EU, has a comprehensive trade embargo against North Korea.  Canada also has strong sanctions remaining against Burma as well as some of the strongest global sanctions against Syria.

The glaring omission is, of course, sanctions against Cuba, which Canada does not have.  In fact, Canada is Cuba’s largest export destination. Canada’s Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act, moreover, has long created a transnational dilemma because it prohibits any business in Canada from complying with U.S. sanctions against Cuba.  Businesses subject to both U.S. and Canadian laws will violate someone’s law in deciding whether or not to do business with Cuba.  As aggressive as Canada is in imposing sanctions against some countries, it is also aggressive in countering sanctions which it does not support.

But why shouldn’t Canada have a leading role in developing global sanctions policy?  Canada is the second-largest country in the world and one of the few countries with over a trillion dollars in GDP.  Eastern Canada’s traditional ties to Europe and western Canada’s increasing ties to China, Japan and the rest of the Pacific Rim make Canada one of the most globally connected countries.

For exporters with business in the United States, EU and Canada that presume that U.S. sanctions set the bar for your global compliance efforts, you may increasingly need to think again with respect to Canada.  Remember the Canadians can beat us at our own game: the Blue Jays won the World Series (twice)!

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Posted by Clif Burns at 8:59 pm on February 25, 2014
Category: Cuba SanctionsEconomic SanctionsIran SanctionsOFACSudanSyria

Formal Fridays via,8_IL.9,22_IC1147431.htm [Fair Use]I missed this earlier, but back at the end of January, Coursera, a provider of the euphoniously acronymed MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) said “No MOOCS for you” to residents of Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan who wanted to better themselves by taking online courses such as “Scandinavian Film and Television” or “Buddhism and Modern Psychology.” I certainly sleep better at night now knowing that the Cuban and Iranian threats are not being needlessly augmented by educating Cubans and Iranians on the subtle politics of Borgen or the psychological insights of the Four Noble Truths.

Because the online courses involve feedback, grading and the like, the concern is that these courses are an export of services, forbidden by the current sanctions on these countries, rather than the export of information, which is permitted under the Berman Amendment. Coursera is a little vague in explaining how it just found that out, saying that it “recently received information that has led to the understanding that the services offered on Coursera are not in compliance with the law as it stands” and that prior to that the law was “unclear.”

Coursera has given Syrian students a reprieve by saying that the State Department has told it that OFAC’s Syria General License 11A covers MOOCs for Syria. That license permits non-governmental organizations to export services to Syria in support of education. I’m not clear how Coursera qualifies as an NGO since it is not a non-profit but a for-profit corporation that seeks revenues and profits through its certification programs and sales of textbooks purchased through its affiliate relationship with Amazon. Nor am I quite clear how the State Department has acquired the ability to determine the scope of OFAC licenses.

The company claims that it is weeding out Cubans, Sudanese and Iranians based on IP addresses, apparently not having taken one of their own course on VPNs which would allow an Iranian wannabe student to appear, online at least, as a German or Italian or whatever. And since civil violations of OFAC rules do not require intent, Coursera is still liable if an Iranian is sitting in Iran but using a VPN to appear as if he or she were elsewhere.

This last point underlines a particular stupidity of applying a 19th century sanctions philosophy to a 21st century Internet where there are no borders. If an Iranian student is, in fact, sitting with his or her laptop in Germany, it would not be illegal for Coursera to provide its services to that student. It is only illegal when the student is in fact physically located in Iran. Now if you can identify a sensible policy which explains why it is more dangerous to teach an Iranian about Scandinavian TV while in Iran than it is in Germany, then you are much more clever than I am.

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