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Lethal Technology Making Way From U.S. to Iran Via Front Companies
Iran, a veteran of such schemes, appears in the documents to be increasingly adept at using front companies, which pose as schools or private laboratories conducting business through seemingly legitimate Web sites, the Justice Department records show. If discovered -- as happened with the Dubai-based Mayrow General Trading in 2006 -- the businesses frequently reopen under different names in other locations.
According to the records, Mayrow was the hub of a procurement network that operated from early this decade until about 2006, chiefly in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates and a close U.S. ally. U.S. intelligence officials have long identified the small Persian Gulf kingdom as a center for shell companies seeking to buy weapons parts and technology for countries that cannot import them legally. Since 2006, Dubai has moved to close Mayrow and toughen export regulations.
Mayrow worked in tandem with three other companies that alternated placing orders with U.S. firms for electronic parts. All four companies had the same business address and same principal managers, yet on paper they appeared to be separate and legitimate trading companies seeking parts for a variety of industrial uses, Albright said in the ISIS report, titled "Iranian Entities Illicit Military Procurement Networks." The report is due for release this week.
"The trading companies effectively created a wall between the Iranian entities and the U.S. suppliers, making it difficult for the U.S. suppliers to identify the true end-user of an item," the report says.
The Mayrow network resulted in the acquisition of hundreds of sensitive parts from U.S. manufacturers in California, Florida, Georgia and New Jersey during a four-year period, according to a federal indictment returned by a Florida grand jury in September.
All the items were shipped from Dubai to Iran, where most appear to have been distributed among several manufacturers of IEDs. These bombs account for the majority of U.S. troop casualties in Iraq, as well as the deaths of thousands of civilians, police and troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Examinations of unexploded bombs have confirmed the presence of circuit boards, timers and other parts of U.S. origin, federal officials confirm.
Mayrow's ability to trade with Americans essentially ended in 2006 when the Commerce Department imposed extensive trade restrictions on the company and its known partners. Yet months after the sanctions went into effect, a similar network based in Malaysia began asking U.S. companies for the same kinds of technology, the Justice Department documents show. The orders were primarily from a firm that called itself Vast Solution and was headed by Majid Seif, an Iranian national. Seif was named in the federal indictment as a co-conspirator in an international plot to acquire components for Iranian-made IEDs.
By 2007, the Dubai-based operation had been almost entirely replaced by the Malaysian networks, the ISIS study found. Yet, while perhaps less conspicuous than before, the Dubai network probably continues to exist, though in a different form. Typically, the new front companies will not be discovered until long after crucial technology has left American shores aboard ships ultimately bound for Iran, Albright said.
"The current system of export controls doesn't do enough to stop illicit trade before the item is shipped," he said. "Having a law on the books is not the same as having a law enforced."