US charges Iranians with tech smuggling

US federal authorities say they have uncovered parallel plots to smuggle banned high-tech goods and knowhow to Iran and China.

America’s tech war against its rivals shows no signs of slowing down and stretches from coast to coast – on February 7th charges were brought in New York against two Iranians accused of trying to smuggle aeronautical goods into their country, just as a similar case was brought in California against a man who allegedly tried to steal secret US government technology used to detect nuclear strikes.

“In two separate cases out of US Attorneys’ Offices on opposite coasts, several individuals are charged – one of whom was arrested yesterday – in connection with sophisticated schemes to transfer sensitive technology, goods, and information for the benefit of hostile foreign adversaries,” said the Department of Justice (DoJ).

The New York case concerns Iranian suspects Abolfazi Bazzazi, 79, and his son Mohammad Resa, 43, who “sought to evade US sanctions and export laws by working to procure goods and technology, including aeronautical ground support equipment, ultraviolet flame detectors, and firefighting equipment, from US companies for end users in Iran.”

However, no arrests have yet been made and the Bazzazis remain at large, the DoJ added. The pair are believed to have run their illegal operation between 2008 and 2019.

Meanwhile, in California, Chenguang Gong, 57, of San Jose, was arrested on suspicion of stealing more than 3,600 files in 2023 from the research and development company where he worked, transferring these to storage devices he owned.

The files he is accused of stealing included blueprints for sophisticated infrared sensors designed for use in space-based systems to detect nuclear warhead launches and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles, the DoJ said.

Seized during a police raid on Gong’s home, they also included “blueprints for sensors designed to enable US military aircraft to detect incoming heat-seeking missiles and take countermeasures, including by jamming the missiles’ infrared tracking ability.”

The DoJ added: “Many of the files Gong allegedly transferred contained proprietary and trade secret information related to the development and design of a readout integrated circuit that allows space-based systems to detect missile launches and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles [...] in low-visibility environments.”

Gong, who is thought to have been recruited by Beijing as far back as 2014 through one of China’s so-called “talent programs” – whereby recruits are enticed with offers of financial kickbacks – also allegedly transferred secret data on the development of “next generation” sensors capable of detecting concealed targets from space.

Deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco welcomed the three fresh charges as a fitting first-birthday celebration of a federal initiative set up to prevent foreign powers stealing top US technology.

“One year ago, I launched the Disruptive Technology Strike Force to strike back against adversaries trying to steal our nation’s most powerful technology and use it against us,” said Monaco. “Since then, working with our partners at the Commerce Department, we have arrested more than a dozen corporate executives, engineers, distributors, and other high-profile targets.”

She added: “Today’s charges against three additional defendants for seeking to illegally transfer US software and semiconductor technology with military applications to benefit Iran and China highlight the critical importance of our fight against this national security threat.”

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