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US targets five schemes to transfer sensitive technology to Russia, China, Iran

Two Russians were arrested in Arizona as part of a U.S. crackdown on the illegal export of critical technology to hostile regimes.

(CN) — A recently created Disruptive Technology Strike Force to stop hostile, authoritarian regimes, including Russia, China and Iran, from acquiring sensitive technology from the U.S. has yielded its first five cases, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

"The mission of the strike force is to prevent foreign adversaries to obtain critical, advanced technologies," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said at a press conference. "Our work is critical to defend U.S. military readiness, to preserve our technological advantage over our adversaries, and to protect human rights and democratic values worldwide."

The five cases in Arizona, California, and New York involved separate schemes to supply sensitive technology to Russian military and intelligence services, to sell stolen source code, including from Apple, to Chinese companies, and to use a sanctioned Chinese company to provide materials used in the production of weapons of mass destruction to Iran.

In one case, a Greek man who headed a group of European defense and technology companies was arrested this month in Paris on suspicion of acquiring more than 10 different types of sensitive technologies on behalf of the Russian government. The U.S. is seeking his extradition to face charges of wire fraud conspiracy and smuggling.

Nikolaos Bogonikolos, 59, is accused of smuggling U.S.-origin military and dual-use technologies, including advanced electronics and sophisticated testing equipment used in quantum cryptography, nuclear weapons testing, and tactical battlefield equipment, to Russia since 2017. Authorities say Bogonikolos pretended that the items, which had in fact been requested by his Russian co-conspirators, were intended for his companies in NATO countries.

Some of the Russian end users included nuclear and quantum research facilities, as well as Military Unit 33949, part of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, according to the Justice Department.

In the Arizona case, two Russians were arrested last week on charges they used their Florida-based company to send aircraft parts to Russian airline companies. They are accused of fielding requests for parts directly from the Russian airlines, which are subject to export sanctions because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and using intermediary companies and foreign bank accounts to mask the true identity of the customers and the source of payments.

Authorities say they approached aircraft parts suppliers in the U.S., lied about who their customers were, and lied about where the parts would be going.

The Disruptive Technology Strike Force was created in February and is headed by the Justice Department’s National Security Division and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. The strike force includes experts throughout the U.S. government, including the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and 14 U.S. attorneys’ offices in 12 metropolitan regions to "target illicit actors, strengthen supply chains and protect critical technological assets from being acquired or used by nation-state adversaries."

In Southern California, a man was arrested on May 6 after arriving on a flight from Taiwan. Liming Li, 64, is accused of stealing sensitive technologies from his employers and using them to market his own competing company to businesses in the China.

Li worked on software programs related to technologies that can be used in various sensitive manufacturing contexts, including manufacturing parts for nuclear submarines and military aircraft, and that are subject to U.S. export controls for national security, nuclear nonproliferation and anti-terrorism reasons. These software cannot be exported to China without a license from the Department of Commerce.

After he was terminated from the last Southern California company he worked for, the unidentified company's security discovered that Li had been downloading files from the company's root directory onto his personal external hard drive. When the company searched Li's company-issued laptop, they found a folder labeled “ChinaGovernment,” which authorities say contained numerous documents showing his efforts to participate in the China's Thousand Talents Program.

In Northern California, a former Apple software engineer was charged for theft and attempted theft of trade secrets related to autonomous systems, which can be used in self-driving cars, among other applications. The engineer left for China after law enforcement searched his home in 2018 and found large quantities of data taken from Apple.

And in New York, a Chinese national was charged with participating in a scheme to use a sanctioned Chinese company to provide materials in the production for weapons of mass destruction to Iran.

Xiangjiang Qiao, aka Joe Hansen, 39, is accused of helping to supply isostatic graphite to Iran for the production of WMDs. Isostatic graphite is used in the manufacture of rocket nozzles and reentry vehicle nose tips in intercontinental ballistic missiles. Qiao concealed the Chinese company's involvement in the transaction by creating a bank account in the name of a front company, authorities say.

Qiao is at large in China, according to the Justice Department.

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