A Decade of Blogging

Posted by at 5:00 pm on August 23, 2016
Category: General

Blue Hour Capitol Building

Ten years ago from this past Sunday, on August 21, 2006, I put up the first post on this blog. I had zero readers. I bet no one ever even read that post until, perhaps, today. In fact, according to my server logs, I had a grand total of 53 people come to read the blog in August 2006, and most of them were probably web-crawling robots.

Since then, I’ve put up 1,370 posts. The site has had 3.9 million visits. Each month, an average of 8,000 unique visitors drop by. And for that, I want to thank each and every one of my readers who have made this possible.

That includes the anonymous BIS agent in New Jersey who for several years posted anonymously from his home computer comments reviling me as an uneducated imposter. His chief complaint was that I referred to “BIS ALJs” rather than his preferred, and more eloquent, alternative: “Coast Guard ALJs Who Are Assigned To Hear BIS Cases But Who Are Paid By The Coast Guard Which In Turn Is Reimbursed By BIS For The ALJs’ Time.” I think he may have, in one of his comments, even called for my law school to revoke my degree and, in another, for me to refund all the legal fees that I had collected in my lifetime. He hasn’t been around for quite some time and I rather miss him.

I also want to thank the commenters who caught and pointed out things that I actually got wrong or that I should have mentioned but didn’t. I’ve learned things from them as I hope readers may have learned things from me.

Without question, thanks are also due to Jim Bartlett, who has regularly republished each and every post in The Daily Bugle, even ones where I tried to sneak in naughty words or risqué double entendres that might offend his family audience.

I’ve tried these last ten years to make export law entertaining, which, I suppose, is rather like trying to stage a punk rock version of La Bohème with a fifth grade cast and a pit orchestra of ukuleles — easier said than done and not something that will appeal to everyone. But once you’ve gone through the effort to rent the house and put a show like that on the stage, there’s no point in cancelling the performance.

Photo Credit: Blue Hour Capital Building by Clif Burns, via Copyright 2016 Clif Burns

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This Post About Kim Kardashian Will Leave You Utterly Speechless

Posted by at 10:19 pm on August 17, 2016
Category: SECSyria

Homs Syria by Bo yaser (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons [cropped and processed]

According to this article, the Securities and Exchange Commission is sending out inquiries to certain publicly traded technology companies to ask them whether they are involved in any illegal exports to Syria. Among the subjects of concern by the SEC is a company named Glu Mobile, the perpetrator of a mobile phone game called, and I’m not kidding here, “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.” This game allows you to “create your own star and customize your look with hundreds of style options … [and] join Kim Kardashian on a red carpet adventure.” Apparently, civilization as we know it will crumble into dust if people in Syria can play this game on their phones. (Frankly, we’d probably be better off if this game could ONLY be played in Syria, but that’s another issue.)

Glu pointed out to the geniuses at the SEC, who apparently can’t figure out how mobile phones work, that mobile games are sold through the iTunes, Amazon and Android stores and that these stores don’t permit sales to Syria. One can only imagine that the folks at the SEC must have been under the impression that mobile games were distributed on floppy disks sent through the mails.

Photo Credit: By Bo yaser (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons [cropped and processed].

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Yes, We Have No Bananas!

Posted by at 5:33 pm on August 16, 2016
Category: Economic SanctionsOFAC

Bananas by Anthony Easton [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped and processed]

The problem with many economic sanctions, particularly those aimed at drug lords, is that they wind up hurting the wrong people. Consider the case of the designation of the inaccurately named John Angel Zabaneh by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) as detailed in this excellent Reuters news story. OFAC put Zabaneh on the SDN List based on its belief that Zabaneh is connected with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, although Zabaneh denies this.

Because drug lords do not live by drugs alone, targeted narcotics kingpins in Central America often have other, and sometimes quite significant, legitimate business interests. In this case, Zabaneh was also a banana farmer in Belize and his farms contributed a significant portion of Belize’s banana exports. It should probably come as no surprise that bananas constitute about 20 percent of all of Belize’s exports.

So when OFAC designated Zabaneh, it ultimately resulted in shutting down his banana farms when his customers became unwilling to deal with him. This resulted, according to the Reuters article, in a 13.5 percent plunge in banana exports from Belize and the loss of 900 jobs previously held by workers on the Zabaneh farms.

There is no evidence that this caused Mr. Zabaneh to exit the drug trade, if he ever was in it, or crimped his lifestyle in any fashion. The only effects, it would appear, of the OFAC sanctions was that it allowed the U.S. government to feel good about itself and caused a bunch of people in Belize, with no connection to any drug trade, to wonder where there next meal might be coming from.

Photo Credit: Bananas by Anthony Easton [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped and processed]. Copyright 20xx Sami Keinanen

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Friday Round-Up

Posted by at 4:28 pm on August 12, 2016

Bumper Cars on the Boardwalk

Here are a few recent odds and ends that are worth a mention (and to catch up on a few things I missed while on vacation):

  • The Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (“DDTC”) issued guidance as to which activities are “gunsmithing” that do not require registration under part 122 and which are “manufacturing” and do require registration. This guidance defines “gunsmithing” and “manufacturing” completely differently from the definitions used by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (“ATF”). For example, assembling kits into guns is “manufacturing” according to ATF but not according to DDTC. On behalf of lawyers everywhere: Thanks, DDTC, for keeping us busy!
  • More revisions to the TAA Guidelines, which are longer and less interesting than all six volumes of Proust, were announced. These mostly take into account the new definitions of export, re-export and retransfer that were recently adopted as an interim final rule by DDTC. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, true export reform would get rid of the ridiculous TAA process entirely and make it similar to the  process used by the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) for licensing technology exports.
  • The United States Marshals Service (“USMS”) is auctioning off 2,719.32669068 bitcoins. You will be, I’m sure, relieved to know that the auction notice explicitly states that the USMS won’t accept any bids from anyone on OFAC’s SDN List. I wouldn’t want Eliot Ness going after Rooster Cogburn, even if it would make a better movie than Batman v. Superman.

Photo Credit: Bumper Cars on the Boardwalk by Clif Burns, via Flickr Copyright 2016 Clif Burns

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Gone Fishin’ (Again)

Posted by at 11:49 pm on August 9, 2016
Category: BISCuba SanctionsOFAC

Boat in Ernest Hemingway International Billfishing Tournament via [Fair Use]Longtime friend and blog reader Pat had a good catch (so to speak) with respect to yesterday’s post on the Ernest Hemingway International Billfishing Tournament in Cuba. The post noted that participation in the tournament by U.S. persons might be covered by the new OFAC General License in section 515.567(b) relating to participation in competitions in Cuba. Whether that license would apply depends upon whether Cubans could participate in the tournament, something which I thought was perhaps affected by the high cost of participation in the tournament.

Even if the OFAC license applied, U.S. participants who wanted to take their own boats into Cuban waters would need to deal with the temporary export of the boat into Cuban territorial waters, an export controlled by BIS. I noted that BIS had granted such licenses, but Pat pointed out in a comment to yesterday’s post that last September BIS amended license exception AVS to permit temporary sojourns of less than 14 days by U.S. recreational boats in Cuban waters as long as it was pursuant to travel authorized by a general or specific license from OFAC.

That’s a great point, and I had forgotten about the amendment to License Exception AVS. It also, given the 14 day sojourn limitation, raises the issue of the OFAC rule in section 515.207 that prohibits a boat that has entered Cuban waters and purchased goods (in this case, think live bait) from entering a U.S. port for 180 days.

OFAC does have an exception in section 515.550 for return in advance of this date by “vessel used solely for personal travel (and not transporting passengers)” and where the export was covered by BIS’s license exception AVS. As usual, OFAC’s drafting leaves much to be desired given that the distinction between personal travel and transporting passengers may not always be clear. Probably the distinction rests on whether the other passengers are paying or not, excluding, I suppose, personal friends sharing expenses. But I’m not sure I would want to run the risk of overstepping this not very well drawn line.

What about chartering a fishing boat in Miami to participate in the tournament? Although that would still probably be a “recreational vessel” covered by license exception AVS, it’s not clear whether that would be personal travel (by the charterers) or transporting passengers (by the captain and crew). I, for one, would want specific guidance from OFAC before getting on that boat.

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