On February 25, Mozaffar Khazaee, a former employee of various defense contractors, pleaded guilty to illegal export of ITAR-controlled technical data to Iran. The case started with an audacious shipment from Connecticut to a freight forwarder in Long Beach, California, by Khazaee of 44 boxes labelled as household goods that, in fact, contained numerous manuals and other technical documents relating to the F35 Joint Strike Fighter and military jet engines. The boxes were intended for ultimate shipment to Iran. Further investigation revealed that these documents had been taken by Khazaee from defense contractors for which he worked and that taking these documents violated the contractors’ rules requiring return of all documents at the end of employment. Khazaee was initially arrested for charges, set forth in the criminal complaint, of illegally transporting stolen property across state lines.

Khazaee’s ultimate plea was for violation of the Arms Export Control Act. The superseding information that served as the basis for the plea, however, alleged the export of only one document (out of the 44 boxes of documents) which was asserted to contain controlled technical data designated under Category XIX(g) of the United States Munitions List.

Two things stand out about this case. First, the superseding information charged, and Khazaee pleaded guilty to, export of the document and not attempted export of the document. The problem is the document was seized in Long Beach and never left the country. Section 120.17 of the ITAR defines export as “taking a defense article out of the United States.” No matter what your feelings may be about Long Beach, California, it is definitively still in the United States last time I checked. There is some evidence that the boxes may have been loaded onto the Panamanian-flagged NYK Libra. But given the definition of United States in section 120.13, it is hard to argue that the document left the United States until the NYK Libra did.

The second thing of interest were statements made by Khazaee, and cited in the superseding information, to potential employers in Iran that his job advancement in the United States had been hindered by his Iranian nationality even though he was an American citizen.

Even though working industry being very exciting, with best pay salary and high-tech events, my original nationality being Iranian (which I am very proud of), has caused me tremendous issue and hindrances towards my progress and goals. I can’t make any publication in current job (everything is very proprietary and restricted, mostly military projects), I was rejected to participate in the new advance engine program (this is beyond F135 engine, it’s called AETD), purely based on my original nationality. This is the primary … reason for my consideration to move to Iran.

Obviously one wrong does not justify another. However, discrimination against a U.S. citizen based on his national origin,if this is what occurred here, is a violation of federal law. And given the unhealthy obsession of the DoD and DDTC on national origin, at least with respect to dual and third-country nationals, it seems at least possible that this may have occurred. It may well be that the best way to encourage loyalty among American citizens is to treat them all equally without respect to where they were born.