Federal agents arrested seven people yesterday in two suburban New Jersey towns and charged them with exporting millions of dollars' worth of sensitive military technology and components to China. The arrests were the latest in a crackdown on what authorities believe is a clandestine network purchasing weapons technology across the United States for the communist power.
The men and women arrested yesterday are connected to two companies and are accused of sending the Chinese military several shipments of weapons systems, including radar, smart bombs, electronic warfare and communications equipment. According to the complaints, the items were routed through Hong Kong by various means, and the defendants tried to conceal their activities by identifying the receiver as a U.S. corporation.
"Today's arrests are the latest in a series of cases in which we've found sensitive U.S. weapons technology being illegally exported to China," said Michael J. Garcia, who oversees the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Department of Homeland Security. Garcia said a major priority for the bureau, which sent teams to Iraq last year to investigate possible weapons transfers to the former government of Saddam Hussein, was "preventing American military technology from falling into the wrong hands."
Agents also seized $76,000 in cash during the arrests, at the homes and businesses of the defendants in Mount Laurel and Cherry Hill. All seven defendants made an initial court appearance in Camden, N.J., yesterday and were charged with one count each of conspiracy, wire fraud and violation of the Export Administration Act, which requires exporters of military items to register and obtain a license from the State Department. The charges carry a combined maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and $1.2 million in fines. Five of the suspects are naturalized U.S. citizens of Chinese origin, and two others, also Chinese, are permanent legal residents who risk deportation.
Since October 2002, investigations have led to a dozen indictments, most in California, against individuals and companies suspected of weapons transfers to China. It is unclear whether any of the individuals charged in separate cases were working together and who their contacts were in China. In some cases, ICE believes that the equipment was being shipped to the military or to research labs connected to China's defense establishment.
The investigations have led to three convictions, and proceedings are continuing in the other cases. In addition, the State Department settled a civil case against Hughes Electronics Corp. and Boeing Satellite Systems Inc., for illegally sharing sensitive satellite technology with China.