When you absolutely, positively have to fight proliferation… Send a lawyer

Now I’m sure you agree that when asked to name the first person who comes to mind when it comes to combating illegal nuclear black market traffickers Alberto Gonzalez is not on the tip of your tongue. In fact, now that he is no longer US Attorney General, you probably don’t think of him at all.

But actually when he spoke at the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism Law Enforcement Summit on June 11 in Miami, Florida (and where better than Miami to talk about criminal behavior?) he actually a few some interesting things to say.

We also need to look to the private sector as a partner in our efforts. Partnerships between the private sector and the government are critical if we hope to get advanced warnings of proliferation plots. The private sector and scientific communities are often our eyes and ears on these matters.

Among other things, we must expand our outreach efforts to research institutions, universities, as well as manufacturers and exporters of sensitive technology to educate them about export laws and to solicit their assistance in preventing illegal foreign acquisition of their products and technical data.

Such visits and outreach efforts often result in tips that lead to criminal investigations nationwide and worldwide. On a frequent basis, law enforcement in this country is contacted by companies who are targeted by foreign agents or arms brokers seeking to acquire their technology for illegal export abroad. These tips form the basis for some of our most robust investigations. We must continue on this path.

In the United States over the past few years, we have dramatically enhanced our ability to target terrorist networks by using the full range of legal and intelligence tools in our arsenal. For example, we have made great use of our material support statutes. These statutes allow us to prosecute those who provide money and technical expertise to terrorists even before they can undertake an operation. At the same time, we have increasingly used basic immigration laws and financial crime statutes to target those who may also have a nexus to terrorism. These tools, which have not traditionally been used to combat terrorists, are now being applied in a manner that has allowed us to break up potential terror cells before they can mature.

We need to apply this same approach to the counter-proliferation arena in order to better combat this threat. If we don’t have sufficient evidence to arrest a known weapons technology broker on smuggling or export charges, we need to take a look at their immigration status or their financial transactions to see if they have committed other crimes. We need to be creative and flexible if we are to prevent proliferation plots from maturing to full-scale threats.

So, a word to the wise, for those of you seeking to emulate Dr Khan. Make sure your visas are in good order. But wait, there’s more.

In recent past, the Justice Department has prosecuted independent arms brokers and foreign agents for attempting to illegally acquire component parts for nuclear weapons systems; guidance systems for rockets and missiles, as well as base ingredients for chemical and biological weapons…

Let me give you one recent example:

Federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia recently had a case involving the illegal export of something called a triggered spark gap. This small piece of advanced technology is normally used in medical devices to help doctors break up kidney stones. However, triggered spark gaps also have military applications. Specifically, they can be used to detonate nuclear warheads. The export of these items to certain countries is restricted by the US government – for good reason.

In the case in question, defendants in South Africa and elsewhere attempted to purchase hundreds of these items from a medical supplier in the United States. They represented that the items were going to be put to medical use in hospitals in South Africa. In reality, these goods were to be illegally diverted from South Africa to recipients in another nation for suspected military or nuclear end-use.

Thanks to the outstanding cooperation between South African authorities and US law enforcement agencies, we were able to thwart this nuclear proliferation attempt. The only nuclear triggers that made it to their intended destination had been previously rendered inert by law enforcement, and one of the key defendants in the case was arrested in Colorado, pleaded guilty and was ultimately sentenced to prison.

Because these cases deal with advanced technology and because so many different federal agencies can have jurisdiction, investigating and prosecuting these cases can be extremely complex and time-consuming.

In order to more fully respond to this pressing national security threat, the Justice Department is preparing a national export enforcement initiative that will harness the counter-proliferation assets of the law enforcement and intelligence communities to improve the detection, investigation, and prosecution of persons and corporations violating US export control laws.

One of the key elements of the initiative will be to provide our federal prosecutors with the assistance, training and expertise they need to undertake these specialized prosecutions.

The Department has already taken several steps in this regard. Last month, our National Security Division held a national export control conference, where our federal prosecutors were provided instruction and guidance on export control cases. Trainers from the Justice Department and the relevant investigative agents were on hand to provide comprehensive prosecutorial instruction.

Furthermore, the Department has also recently appointed its first National Export Control Coordinator for the Department to be responsible for, among other things, the development of comprehensive training materials for prosecutors nationwide. This person will also be responsible for coordinating with the many other U.S. law enforcement, licensing and intelligence agencies that play a role in export enforcement.

In the coming months, we will be taking additional steps to move this initiative forward. We know there is a substantial demand by terrorists and rogue regimes for restricted US technology, including nuclear weapons components. And we expect no decrease in that demand in the near future.

It would be the ultimate irony if a foreign terrorist organization intent on harming the United States was able to obtain and use sensitive US weapons components in carrying out such an attack.

Yes, ironic indeed. Evidently Alberto read his Lenin: When the time is right we will make great concessions and overtures of peace to the capitalists and they will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.

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