Lisong Ma, a Chinese national, pleaded guilty last week to charges that he attempted to export carbon fiber from the United States without a license. Carbon fiber meeting certain technical qualifications is classified as ECCN 1C010 and would require a license from the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) before it could be exported to China. Reading the DOJ press release announcing the plea suggests that the defendant was either incredibly stupid or that something else was going on.

According to the DOJ account, the defendant contacted an undercover agent online and inquired into the purchase of a large amount of Toray T800 carbon fiber. What is strange is that the defendant actually came to the United States to close the deal. And, of course, the rest is history.

But what make this strange is that the Toray carbon fiber is made in Japan and appears to be readily available in China. Either the defendant was just dumber than the carbon fiber he was trying to buy or, possibly, the agents proposed an incredibly attractive price to lure him into the United States. Admittedly the failure to recognize a price “too good to be true,” if that is what happened here, is probably also a form of stupidity

As is typical with press releases of this kind, the government agencies involved spare no effort to pat themselves on the back for nabbing this dangerous criminal through “covert cyber operations.” Although “covert cyber operations” sounds intriguing, what it means, ultimately, is having a bunch of federal agents surf the net and hang out at alibaba.com looking for exporters to nab by dangling sweet deals in front of them. As they say (or sing sometimes): nice work if you can get it.