U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—an arm of the Department
of Homeland Security that is known as ICE—is cracking down
on the illegal exportation of military arms and other sensitive
Preventing terrorist groups and hostile nations from obtaining such
technology, particularly components of weapons of mass destruction,
is “one of our highest priorities,” Steven Arruda, chief
of arms and strategic technology investigations for ICE, told National
ICE came into being in 2003 with the creation of the department.
It includes more than 20,000 employees of the law enforcement, investigative
and intelligence elements of the Customs, Immigration and Naturalization,
Federal Protective and Federal Air Marshals Services.
In 2004, Arruda said, ICE agents conducted more than 2,500 investigations
into illegal exporting of munitions and other sensitive technology.
They made 146 arrests and brought 103 indictments.
“Typically, these cases involve two types of items—equipment
and technology that is strictly military in nature and civilian
products that have a military application, or dual use,” he
said. “Lots of equipment used in laboratories have dual uses.
For example, you may have a spectrometer that measures the curvature
of glass. It could be used to manufacture eyeglasses or a part for
Under federal law, the export of military and dual-use technologies
is limited strictly to allies, but buyers for terrorist organizations
and potential adversaries—such as Iran, North Korea, Syria,
Sudan and China—are busy trying to acquire weapons systems
and other sensitive equipment.
By its very nature, the illegal arms trade is difficult to measure,
but it certainly amounts to tens of millions of dollars a year,
Arruda said. More important than the monetary value of the illegal
exports is the strategic and potential utility of the products,
“A lot of this technology can end up killing Americans,”
said ICE spokesman Dean Boyd. “It can affect the balance of
power on the battlefield.”
In April, for example, a District Court in Florida sentenced a
55-year-old Colombian—Guillermo Cardoso-Arias—to 46
months in prison for attempting to export 200 AK-47 automatic assault
rifles without a license to his native country. The rifles were
to be used by the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, a right-wing
militia on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.
Spare parts are in high demand. Also in April, an Iranian—Abbas
Tavakolian—pled guilty in federal court in Baltimore, Md.,
to money laundering and trying to export F-4 Phantom and F-14 Tomcat
fighter aircraft components to his homeland. His shopping list included
gunnery system parts for the aircrafts. One such component was the
M61A1 Vulcan six-barrel, rotary action, inner drum, which is essential
to feed ammunition into an aircraft Gattling gun.
The scheme was global. Tavakolian transferred money from Panama
to the United States to buy the parts. He met with undercover ICE
agents in Europe to obtain an inner drum, and he met with agents
again in the South Pacific to acquire the parts—at a cost
of $380,000—and arrange for their shipment to Iran.
Without the Iranian’s knowledge, ICE agents subsequently
intercepted the parts, so they never reached Iran. He was arrested
later, when he tried to acquire several complete F-14s for shipment
to his home country.
Another popular product for illegal exporting is night-vision technology.
“Many militaries around the world have older versions of night
vision,” Arruda said. “What the bad guys are looking
for is generation III, the latest version used by U.S. troops.”
In December 2004, Austrian authorities—working with ICE agents—arrested
two Iranians who were seeking 3,000 helmet-mounted generation III
night-vision goggles. “The Austrians were very helpful to
us,” Arruda said.
Another country that has cooperated with ICE has been the Netherlands.
Dutch authorities in December arrested Frans Van Anraat, 62, on
charges of genocide for his role in supplying chemical weapons components
to Iraq that were used by Saddam Hussein to gas thousands of Kurds
ICE investigators charged in 1989 that Van Anraat had had arranged
for four shipments of thiodiglycol—a precursor chemical for
mustard gas—from the United States to Iraq. He was arrested
in Italy, but authorities there released him, and he fled to Iraq.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Van Anraat returned to his homeland,
where Dutch police took him into custody.
China—despite its growing technological capability—is
still a destination of illegal exports from the United States, ICE
officials said. In November, a federal judge in Washington, D.C.,
ordered Los Angeles aircraft parts supplier Interaero Inc. to pay
$500,000 and serve five years of corporate probation for illegally
exporting components for HAWK missiles, F-4 Phantom and F-5 Phantom/Tiger
fighter jets to China.
The conviction was the eleventh in California and the District
of Columbia to result from a five-year ICE investigation that targeted
aircraft parts suppliers who sold defense parts over the Internet
to foreign buyers without obtaining the required export licenses
or complying with arms embargoes.
Sometimes, the shipments are intended for allies. Also in November,
Carlos Melean was indicted for attempting to send radar antennae
control boxes for Orion P-3 surveillance aircraft to Spain, a member
of NATO. According to the complaint, the boxes were intended for
use by the Spanish air force.
In 2004, Asher Karni was arrested in Denver, Colo., in connection
with a plot to export devices with nuclear-weapons applications
to Pakistan, an important ally in the war on terrorism. The devices—known
as triggered spark gaps—have civilian uses in hospitals, but
they also can be employed to detonate nuclear bombs. As part of
the undercover investigation, ICE agents disabled 66 of them before
they were routed through South Africa, the United Arab Emirates
and ultimately to Pakistan.
Countries seeking illegally to acquire U.S. defense technology
often use middlemen around the world. When such schemes are discovered,
allied authorities almost always cooperate in investigating and
arresting those involved, said Robert A. Schoch, deputy assistant
director of ICE’s national security investigations division.
To help keep track of illegal exports, ICE maintains 56 offices
in 43 different countries, he said.
ICE officials acknowledge that it often is difficult for U.S. manufacturers
to recognize illegal arms exporters. “They deal through brokers
and middlemen,” said Schoch. “”You’re not
going to get a call from an Iranian or a Syrian.
“You’re going be talking to somebody from a company
with a name like ‘Johnny Brown Associates’ in Oklahoma,”
he said. “That person may be dealing with a contact somewhere
in, say, Europe, and that person may be in contact with somebody
in Tehran or Damascus.”
To educate U.S. companies about export laws and to seek their assistance
in catching violators, ICE is conducting an outreach program called
“Project Shield America.” Since the terrorist attacks
of 2001, ICE agents have visited more than 10,700 companies that
resulted in tips that have led to nationwide, even worldwide, investigations,
“We emphasize that we’re not here to impede industry’s
international sales,” he said. “We just want you to
do one thing—report suspicious inquiries to us. If you get
an e-mail that strikes you as questionable, don’t hit the
‘delete’ button on your computer. Continue the contact,
and let us know.”
Business officials are encouraged to assist ICE by:
ICE came under fire in March with release of a report from the
Government Accountability Office that questioned the pace of its
investigations. “The number of investigations opened and individuals
arrested by ICE agents for suspected arms-export violations has
fluctuated widely over the past five fiscal years,” the report
Furthermore, the report added, “When ICE opens an investigation
… it may take several years for agents to build a case and
eventually make an arrest—if one is made at all. Once an arrest
is made, several years may pass before [the Justice Department]
brings the case to trial and obtains a conviction.”
Michael J. Garcia, assistant secretary of homeland security for
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, conceded in congressional testimony
that ICE has faced “significant challenges” since its
founding in 2003.
“We have had to build a new agency almost from the ground
up—bringing together divisions from four separate agencies
into a single functioning unit and melding the cultures and missions
of various units into a unified whole,” Garcia said.
A particular problem was the budget, he noted. Funding for component
units was “broken apart in ways that were not always consistent.
As a result, in some cases, ICE was paying for services when the
funds for those services had been allocated to other agencies.”
To compensate for the budgetary shortfall, CE placed a temporary
freeze on new hires, limited expenditures to show deemed “mission
essential” and sought to clarify funding priorities. As a
result of those efforts, ICE recouped $120 million in short-term
savings in fiscal 2004 and recovered more than $500 million from
other agencies in the second half of 2004, Garcia said.
For 2006, the administration is seeking more than $4.36 billion
for ICE, an increase of 13.5 percent. Of this amount, $105 million
will go to the office of investigations.