Individuals and companies are increasingly trying to smuggle technology related to weapons and spy equipment out of the United States, The New York Times reports.
According to the newspaper, the rate of recent attempts to ship those technologies to foreign adversaries, surpass similar attempts in the Cold War-era.
In a recent case, a Texas businessman working in a smuggling ring was paid $1.5 million to buy special radiation-resistant circuits for space programs in Russia and China. The businessman, Peter A. Zuccarelli, was working with a partner who is a Pakistani-born American citizen.
According to court documents, Zuccarelli created fake shipping documents and mislabelled the circuits as parts for touch-screen computers. He was sentenced in January to four years in prison.
In another case, Fuyi Sun, a Chinese citizen bought M60 carbon fiber from undercover federal agents at Homeland Security Investigations. His charges say he took steps to conceal and export $25,000 worth of the material. Shortly afterward, he was arrested and later sentenced to three years in prison.
“He openly claimed in an email that he was closely associated with the military,” said Pete Gizas, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, a branch of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
According to the New York Times, in the past five years, almost 3,000 people have been swept up by Homeland Security Investigations alone for trying to smuggle weapons and sensitive technologies — including circuits or other products that can be used in ballistic missiles, drones or explosive devices.
Documents from the Department of Homeland Security show that federal agents also seized more than 7,000 items, including microchips and jet engine parts, set to be smuggled out.
Exporting such items is tightly controlled by the American government to prevent hostile nations or terrorist organizations from turning them into weapons or devices that could harm the United States. In the past, such technology has turned up in improvised explosive devices in Iraq, Russian fighter jets, and Chinese military satellites.
Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran are some of the countries most active in trying to illegally acquire American military technology, officials said.
Adversaries have long deployed spies and black market dealers to obtain American technology. But the scale of current efforts is unusual — “worse than anything that occurred during the Cold War,” said Robert S. Litwak, the vice president for scholars and director of international security studies at the Wilson Center in Washington.