Today, the Commerce Department Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced that, in cooperation with the US attorney in Miami and other federal agencies, it had broken up an Iranian global procurement network used to illegally acquire US-origin dual use and military components. “This extensive, effective government effort has broken up a lethal international ring seeking to harm American and allied forces as well as innocent civilians by acquiring sensitive U.S. technology capable of producing improvised explosive devices (IED) similar to those being used in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Commerce Under Secretary Mario Mancuso.
A corresponding Justice Department press release today announced the unsealing of a 13-count indictment “charging eight individuals and eight corporations in connection with their participation in conspiracies to export U.S.-manufactured commodities to prohibited entities and to Iran. … The defendants are charged with purchasing and causing the export of U.S. goods to Iran through middle countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, England, Germany, and Singapore.” None of the eight defendants reside in the U.S.
The announcements were forwarded by a Washington trade lawyer, aware of my interest in the issue. A couple months ago I reported on a curious phenomenon: why was so much US sensitive military equipment and technology ending up in Iran, the subject of extensive US sanctions? One major soft underbelly of US efforts to restrict the sale of US military equipment to Iran turns out to be the United Arab Emirates, where both the US and Iran have extensive trade ties. In my report, I cited a former Commerce Department official who noted:
“The rhetoric from Commerce…is all about national security … US bureaucrats don’t want to find their names in press for not enforcing when a US soldier is killed [in Iraq] by US technology that was exported to Iran through UAE. So, the rhetoric is very tough for UAE enforcement. On the other hand, we desperately want the oil dollars…So, mixed messages galore.”
The scenario the former Commerce Department official suggested in passing was disturbing. Were some of the components in the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) blamed for killing US forces in Iraq – that the US military alleged were being supplied to Shiite militants in Iraq by Iran – in fact of American origin? Is that why the US military has repeatedly indicated it would display the evidence of the Iranian origin of some of these weapons, and then halted the full presentation?
Today’s announcement by the Commerce Department raises just such questions. Stay tuned.