Nuclear ruse: Posing as toymaker, Chinese merchant allegedly sought U.S. technology

Discussion in 'China' started by Oracle, Aug 12, 2012.

  1. Oracle

    Oracle New Member

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    The Chinese toymaker said he was seeking parts for a “magic horse,” a metal-framed playground pony. But the exotic, wildly expensive raw material he wanted seemed better suited for space travel than backyard play.

    His shopping list, sent by e-mail to a Seattle factory, started with 20 tons of maraging steel, an ultra-strong alloy often used in rockets. The buyer didn’t flinch at the price tag — $2 million — but he repeatedly insisted on secrecy. “This material,” an associate confided in an e-mail, “are danger [sic] goods.”



    Only in recent months did the full scope of the ruse become apparent. The destination for the specialty steel was not China but Iran, and the order had nothing to do with toy horses, U.S. investigators say.

    “We are certain,” said a law enforcement official familiar with the case, “that the metal was meant for advanced centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear program.”

    Last month, the Justice Department announced indictments against two people, one Chinese and the other Iranian, for conspiring to acquire maraging steel and other restricted American technology. U.S. officials say the case is part of a broader effort by Iran to dramatically expand its capacity to enrich uranium — with Chinese firms serving as willing accomplices.

    The United States and its European allies have imposed -ever-escalating sanctions intended to cut off Iran from sensitive technology and restricted material required for its nuclear program and to reduce its access to the global oil market. The goal is to stop Iran’s progress toward what the West believes is a nuclear arsenal, even as Iran maintains that its nuclear efforts are strictly part of a civilian energy program.

    Maraging steel is a critical material in a new, highly efficient centrifuge that Iran has struggled for years to build. Barred by sanctions from buying the alloy legally, Iranian nuclear officials have sought to secretly acquire it from Western companies. In recent years, U.S. officials say, an increasing number of Chinese merchants have volunteered to help, serving as middlemen in elaborate schemes to obtain the steel and other forbidden material for Iran’s uranium enrichment plants as well as its missiles factories.

    “They are not just stumbling on opportunities,” said Steve Pelak, the Justice Department's counterespionage chief. “They are professional, studied procurement agents and shippers. They know precisely what business they’re in and how to go after it.”

    The Seattle case is at least the fourth in the past two years in which companies based in China have been accused of helping Iran try to purchase sensitive technology. Although Iran has used Chinese go-betweens in the past, U.S. officials said sanctions have forced the isolated and besieged Iranian government to rely increasingly on China for economic help and access to restricted goods.

    A senior Justice Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations, said, “As some countries have retreated from the Iranian market with the imposition of increased sanctions, many Chinese companies appear to have moved into the void.”

    Although the Obama administration has praised China for reducing its imports of Iranian oil in recent months, bilateral trade between Tehran and Beijing surged in the previous decade, from $2.5 billion in 2000 to $29.3 billion in 2010. The increase has softened the impact of international sanctions, U.S. officials and independent analysts say.

    With the latest case, however, U.S. warnings about Iranian--Chinese collusion have gained new urgency. If Iran can buy enough maraging steel on the black market, it can build more-efficient centrifuges, which will enrich uranium much faster than the machines it now uses.



    “It is a major bottleneck in Iran’s production,” said David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and author of a new study on Iranian procurement of nuclear technology. While Iran appears to have the know-how to make better centrifuges, the shortage of high-strength materials demanded by the new version — particularly maraging steel and carbon fiber — has prevented its scientists from producing more than a few hundred for testing, he said.

    Officially, the Chinese government opposes a nuclear-armed Iran, and U.S. officials say Beijing has been a helpful ally during recent international negotiations aimed at pressuring the government to scale back its nuclear program. In addition, there is no evidence that China has provided nuclear assistance to Iran directly since the early 1990s.

    Yet, despite repeated U.S. protests, Chinese businessmen continue to offer crucial assistance to Iran’s procurement efforts without fear of punishment or censure, U.S. officials and nuclear experts say.

    An unusual order

    Perhaps the most striking fact about the toy-horse plot, investigators say, is that it was discovered at all. The tip came in late 2008 from an obscure Homeland Security program that involves occasional factory visits by U.S. officials to guard against foreign pilfering of sensitive U.S. technology.

    During a visit to a Puget Sound steelmaker, an export manager there told a U.S. official about a bizarre query he had gotten from China.

    “It was a gigantic order: 20 tons of maraging steel,” recalled a law enforcement official familiar with the case.

    The mention of maraging steel raised eyebrows because of the alloy’s use in missiles and centrifuges. Months passed with no follow-up to the initial inquiry from the prospective buyer, and efforts by U.S. officials to investigate the unusual order reached a dead end.

    In the spring of 2009, a new query from China turned up in the steelmaker’s inbox. This time, the buyer claimed to represent a toy company, Monalila Co., a maker of playground equipment. The company Web site showed photographs of real toys, including its premier product, Model HF450, the “Magic Horse.”

    “No gas, no battery, no power, but can be ride [sic] as a horse and run smoothly on squares, parks, alleys and any other flat grounds,” read the product description, displayed beneath a photo of a black-and-white toy pony with a saddle and cottony mane.

    More @ WashingtonPost
     
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  3. Tolaha

    Tolaha Senior Member Senior Member

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    Re: Nuclear ruse: Posing as toymaker, Chinese merchant allegedly sought U.S. technolo

    Had to come up with this PJ:

    Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes

    to

    Cave Seres faciens maraging ferro equos!

    Used Google translate! :thumb:
     
  4. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Re: Nuclear ruse: Posing as toymaker, Chinese merchant allegedly sought U.S. technolo

    Chinese are clever people and great at ruses and subterfuge!
     
  5. Oracle

    Oracle New Member

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    Re: Nuclear ruse: Posing as toymaker, Chinese merchant allegedly sought U.S. technolo

    Clever is when someone steals but do not get caught.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 14, 2012
    ani82v likes this.
  6. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Re: Nuclear ruse: Posing as toymaker, Chinese merchant allegedly sought U.S. technolo

    Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

    to

    Beware of Chinese managing steel horses! (?)

    Cave Sinensium portantes administrandi ferro equos!
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2012
  7. Predator

    Predator Regular Member

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    Re: Nuclear ruse: Posing as toymaker, Chinese merchant allegedly sought U.S. technolo

    iran via china
     
  8. W.G.Ewald

    W.G.Ewald Defence Professionals/ DFI member of 2 Defence Professionals

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  9. no smoking

    no smoking Senior Member Senior Member

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    Re: Nuclear ruse: Posing as toymaker, Chinese merchant allegedly sought U.S. technolo

    Looks like the chinese is trying to exhausted US intellegence by sending crap emails!
     
  10. s002wjh

    s002wjh Senior Member Senior Member

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    Re: Nuclear ruse: Posing as toymaker, Chinese merchant allegedly sought U.S. technolo

    really i heard alot india and other nationlity smuggle stuff to other country been caught too. i guess they are not mentally under equipped too

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