On September 1st an American court sentenced Pakistani businessman Syed Vaqar Ashraf to 33 months in prison for attempting, between 2012 and 2014, to obtain restricted (requiring an export permit) UAV technology and components (mainly special gyroscopes) for the Pakistani military. Ashraf pretended he was seeking the tech and components for use in Belgium by a local company. But the Belgian firm was controlled by Ashraf and used to move the restricted items to a Pakistani company that was secretly controlled by the Pakistani military research organization. Ashraf was, at American request, arrested in Belgium in early 2015. He resisted extradition but by late 2015 Ashraf was in the United States facing charges based on an investigation that went on for over a year and found numerous cases of fraud, misrepresentation and blatant efforts to evade export controls.
Ashraf, like many such technology thieves and smugglers do it for the money and for their government. Going to jail is one of the risks but it is not as big a risk as it used to be. Iran recently demonstrated that the Americans are now vulnerable to an ancient technique for getting imprisoned agents out of jail. Simply Americans visiting Iran and prison values and offer to make a trade. For a long time the Americans refused to do this but that resolve is apparently weakening and smugglers can rejoice. Pakistan and many other nations have noted how successful this “get out of jail” technique has been for Iran, China and Russia.