By Jay Holmes
On December 9, 2013, former defense contractor employee Mozaffar Khazaee, a.k.a. Arash Kazaie, was arrested at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and charged with trying to ship highly classified military documents to Tehran, Iran. The documents in question included manuals and blue prints for the U.S. Air Force’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Khazaee is a native of Iran who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1991. Surprisingly, he reportedly still holds Iranian citizenship. If that is true, then we are all left to wonder how someone who chooses to remain an Iranian citizen was allowed to receive U.S. citizenship, and how they were able to access highly classified materials.
According to prosecutors, Federal agents began investigating Khazaee in November 2013, when U.S. Customs agents inspected packages he had sent that were destined for Iran. According to court filings, the shipping documents accompanying the packages listed household goods, but a search revealed boxes of documents, including technical manuals, specification sheets, and other materials related to jet engines and to the Joint Strike Fighter program.
Thus far, the U.S. Attorney’s office has charged Khazaee with transporting, transmitting and transferring in interstate or foreign commerce goods obtained by theft, conversion, or fraud. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 if convicted. I assume that charges of espionage or other charges related to mishandling of classified documents will be filed at a later date.
Until August 2013, Khazaee worked as an engineer for defense contractors. The U.S. Prosecutors have not yet named any contractors, but Pratt & Whitney spokesmen indicated that Khazaee was in their employ until August of 2013, and that the company is cooperating fully in an investigation of Khazaee.
Khazaee appeared today before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III in Newark and remains in custody pending his transport to Connecticut for further proceedings.
Here in the United States, the F-35 project is considered by most to be a very expensive, very over-budget, and very behind schedule defense project to produce the main modern fighter to be used by most of the fighter and strike squadrons in the U.S. Air force, The U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Marine Corps. Some U.S. Air Force squadrons tasked with pure air supremacy roles would be equipped with the more expensive and higher speed F-32 Raptor. Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, and the UK are also involved in the research and development of the F-35 as their future front line fighter. In addition, Israel and Japan have agreements in place to purchase the fighter for their Air Forces.
The intercepted documents would have been immensely important to the Iranian government. One of Iran’s major military goals for the last thirty years has been to build an industry that could produce a modern fighter aircraft capable of standing up to American and European fighters. The documents that Khazaee was attempting to deliver to Iran would have helped Iran tremendously in achieving that goal. It also would have helped Iran to better formulate countermeasures against any F-35s deployed against them.
Another damage Khazaee already achieved is the harm to relations between U.S. defense contractors and their counterparts in the nations partnering in the development of the F-35. We in the U.S. have been appropriately demanding about the security procedures and the vetting of employees by the allied defense contractors involved in the project. These same corporations that the U.S. instructed are now reading about a spy case involving an alleged Iranian citizen, and they could feel a bit betrayed by the lack of project security here in the U.S.
As spy stories go, we are just beginning to hear the facts and allegations. The self-serving explanations and finger-pointing will come later, and only then if the major media outlets decide to cover what this old spook considers an important case.
So far, two oddities–besides Khazaee’s security clearance–beg further questioning. How did an engineer like Khazaee manage to live this many years without hearing about “new” technologies like high-speed scanners and flash drives? How did he plan this out without deciding to reduce the shipping cases to CDs with home-copied music overlaying deeper encrypted data containing the blue prints, manuals, etc.? The other big question is why didn’t Iran assign a capable handler to Khazaee while he was working on a case that would be of paramount importance for the Iranian government? On any given day, the Iranian fascist regime busies legions of Iranian intelligence personnel with prowling the streets of the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, and Europe and reporting to fourteen different intelligence agencies. The number changes from day to day as the Iranian mullahs’ chief gophers struggle to reorganize, rename, and re-budget their many competing spy agencies. So again the question: with all those would-be spies and assassins clogging the gutters of the West, why wasn’t the spy-craft-challenged Khazaee simply turning the documents over to a capable Iranian handler?
One can easily imagine Khazaee’s taxpayer funded attorney offering up the classic “he’s way too dumb to be a spy” defense. If not for the fact that Khazaee had been caught red-handed, such a defense might work. If the spook doesn’t fit, you gotta acquit.
The fact that such a valuable and dangerous national treasure as the plans for the F-35 were accessed by Khazaee or anyone like him is annoying enough. But on top of that, it comes at a time when our government is telling us that our nation’s safety is wholly dependent upon the NSA’s careful collection of all of our own citizens’ phone calls, text messages, emails, library records, and grocery lists. While Congress and the White House are expecting us to cheerfully accept a loss in fundamental constitutional rights in the name of “security,” we now discover that same government granted an Iranian citizen access to highly classified documents.
It will be interesting to see whether the major media outlets will bother to question how Khazaee was granted a security clearance. Given how poorly our defense contractors guarded such prized information in this case, we must ask how many spies have been able to steal the same data without our knowing it. If only all the enemies of freedom were as clumsy and clownish as Khazaee. Sadly, they are not. I hope that the NSA and DHS can take a bit of time out of their busy schedule of eavesdropping on honest citizens to investigate the question.