| WASHINGTON, March 28
WASHINGTON, March 28 A dramatic expansion in
nuclear and military smuggling investigations should lead to a
flood of new criminal cases, primarily against Iranian and
Chinese middlemen, U.S. law enforcement officials said on
U.S. officials said they are investigating 30 percent more
cases this year than three years ago. U.S. agencies have
deployed agents posing as arms brokers at more than 20
undercover companies targeting smugglers, said the officials,
who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
Undercover arms smuggling investigations typically take two
to four years to unfold, one of the officials said, which is why
he expects an increase in indictments soon.
"We've got some good undercover cases going," a senior U.S.
The new cases also offer insight into one metric for
measuring Iran's possible interest in nuclear weapons: They show
that Tehran continues to try to acquire "dual-use" items,
products that can be used for both military purposes, such as
nuclear weapons, or peaceful ones, the officials said.
"We're seeing the same trends," a senior U.S. law
enforcement official who closely monitors Iranian smuggling
investigations told Reuters. "The pace is the same - the same
networks, sometimes in different ways."
"We continue to see a steady drumbeat of cases," said Dean
Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman.
Some of the dual-use technology, such as vacuum pumps,
pressure transducers and carbon fiber material, are of
particular use for uranium enrichment. Other materials
investigators believe Iran has been making clandestine efforts
to obtain include specialty metals and alloys used in missiles.
"Iran may have nine out of the ten parts it needs for a
weapon, and that tenth part may seem innocuous," said an
American official in Dubai, a favored smuggling venue. "It's
the tenth item you have to worry about, and unfortunately we
don't always know which of the nine dual-use items they already
have, so you have to guard against them all."
A Reuters analysis - calculated using indictments the
Justice Department identifies as "major export cases" over the
last eight years - shows that nearly one-third of them involved
alleged smuggling to Iran.
Of 260 major U.S. export cases since 2003, 83 involved Iran,
the most of any nation. Sixty-one of the 83 Iranian cases can be
categorized as military-related smuggling: they involve radar
and night-vision gear, fighter jets, airplane components and
missile technology. Eight of 83 cases included alleged attempts
to acquire equipment with nuclear applications.
"It's important to shine a light on this because it is
further proof of the Iranians' effort to get nuclear capability
and the way they will violate any law to do so," said Robert
Casey, U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, who chairs a Senate
subcommittee on the region.
U.S. and European intelligence agencies, including the FBI,
are seeing the same trends with regard to Iran, officials said,
but some European agencies are more focused on gathering
information than making arrests.
A security official for an allied government said European
governments were tracking "hundreds" of cases in which middlemen
suspected of acting on behalf of Iran were trying to buy
technology which could be used for nuclear purposes.
The pattern of these attempted acquisitions, the official
said, led some European intelligence officials to conclude that
Iran was actively pursuing at least some elements of a nuclear
weapons development program.
Tehran says its nuclear program is aimed at developing
energy for peaceful purposes.
The increase in law enforcement activity has been led by
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of
the Department of Homeland Security, which has doubled the
number of counter-proliferation squads in recent years,
ICE recently opened a new, 18-agency Export Enforcement
Coordination Center, designed to reduce redundancies and
increase statistical analysis, shortcomings officials
acknowledge have hampered previous efforts.
Arms smuggling cases are primarily conducted undercover and
agencies often find themselves bumping into each other. In one
recent case, an official said, the new export center discovered
that one group of undercover agents was trying to buy arms from
another group of U.S. agents.
U.S. officials say they do not keep sophisticated statistics
on export smuggling prosecutions - a point highlighted in a
Government Accountability Office report to Congress released on
"While there is a good exchange of intelligence ... no
formal process or means existed for these groups to collectively
quantify and identify statistical trends and patterns relating
to information on illicit transshipments," the report said.
In court cases in 2010, the United States won convictions
against three Iranian-born men: two were convicted for smuggling
vacuum pumps and the third for trying to acquire and smuggle
American-made pressure transducers.
Underscoring the difficulty of such prosecutions, the United
States lost one of its most significant cases in 2010, when
France refused to extradite Majid Kakavand, whom the Americans
accused of supplying companies involved in Iran's nuclear
(Editing by Warren Strobel and Paul Simao)