Just three months after it was launched, an interagency Disruptive Technology Strike Force announced its first enforcement actions targeting schemes involving Russia, China, and Iran. These actions illustrate the increased attention federal authorities are giving to enforcing a growing number of export controls.

The strike force was created to investigate and prosecute criminal violations of export laws and enhance the administrative enforcement of U.S. export controls in order to counter efforts by hostile nation-states to illicitly acquire sensitive U.S. technology. Officials have explained that end-users of national security concern (e.g., China and Russia) are seeking technologies such as those related to supercomputing, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing equipment and materials, quantum computing, and biosciences. Although technologies in these fields have important commercial uses, they can also threaten U.S. national security when used by adversaries for disruptive purposes, such as improving calculations in weapons design and testing, increasing the speed and accuracy of military or intelligence decision-making, and breaking or developing unbreakable encryption algorithms that protect sensitive communications and classified information.

On May 16 the Department of Justice announced that the strike force’s work has led to the unsealing of charges against multiple defendants in five cases who are accused of crimes including export violations, smuggling, and trade secret theft.

- Two cases involve Russia: (1) smuggling U.S.-origin military and dual-use technologies, including tactical equipment and quantum cryptography, and (2) supplying export-controlled parts and components to Russian commercial airlines already subject to increased export sanctions.

- Two other cases involve China: stealing software and hardware source code pertaining to sensitive export-controlled technology, as well as trade secrets related to autonomous vehicles, and using it to help Chinese companies build competing technology.

- One case involves a scheme using a sanctioned Chinese company to provide Iran with materials used in weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.

The strike force is led by the DOJ’s National Security Division and the DOC’s Bureau of Industry and Security. Other agencies involved include the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations. The strike force is operating in 12 metropolitan regions with oversight and support from the local U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Jose, Phoenix, Portland, and Washington, D.C.

For more information on how your company can avoid export control compliance problems, please contact attorney Kristine Pirnia at (202) 730-4964 or via email.

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