The Biden administration on Tuesday announced arrests and criminal charges in five cases of sanctions-busting and tech espionage efforts tied to Russia, China and Iran.
Two Russian nationals were arrested last week on charges of sending aircraft parts to Russia in violation of sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine. In another case, a former Apple engineer is accused of stealing the company’s self-driving vehicle technology to provide it to a Chinese competitor.
The announcements were the work of a recently created “technology strike force”, which aims to protect critical US technology or data from theft by hostile countries. The strike force was set up in February and brings together agents from the Commerce and Justice Departments, as well as the FBI and local law firms.
Federal agents are working to trace the global movement of US goods and data, as well as the funds used to pay for them. The effort aims to crack down on global networks that funnel goods and technology through opaque jurisdictions and intermediaries in an attempt to circumvent U.S.-imposed sanctions and tech restrictions.
In another case uncovered on Tuesday, a California-based engineer is accused of trying to steal the source code of advanced machines that can be used to make parts for submarines and military aircraft to resell them to several Chinese companies. .
Two other cases were announced, including charges against China-based operatives who were accused of attempting to send materials used in weapons of mass destruction to Iran, according to US officials, and charges involving the alleged supply of advanced technologies to Russia which could be reused. by the Russian army.
Matthew G. Olsen, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told reporters that these cases demonstrate the ability of the U.S. government “to expedite investigations and strengthen our collective resources to defend against these threat”.
“Foreign nation states are working hard to acquire our most sensitive technologies,” said Matthew Axelrod, assistant secretary for export enforcement in the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security. “We are working even harder to stop them.”
Oleg Patsulya and Vasilii Besedin, the two Russian nationals who were arrested last week on suspicion of trying to procure millions of dollars worth of banned parts for Russian airlines, have been charged with conspiracy to of violating the Export Control Reform Act and of conspiring to commit international money laundering. If found guilty, they face up to 20 years in prison for each charge.
The Commerce Department on Tuesday issued a temporary denial order against the men, barring them from any transactions involving U.S. products for 180 days.
The order also applies to a freight forwarder in the Maldives that the men had used to deliver shipments of banned products to Russia, as well as a Russian airline, Smartavia, which was seeking to buy the products.
On Thursday, federal officials seized luxury goods purchased with proceeds from their scheme, a U.S. official said.