The government of Shiite powerhouse Iran has lambasted its American counterpart for sentencing an Iranian engineer with dual citizenship to more than eights years in prison for attempting to smuggle sensitive military documents to the Islamic Republic, various state-run news agencies reported.
Meanwhile, at least three Americans—former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Christian preacher Saeed Abedini, and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian—remain hostage in Iran and the Islamic Republic has not made public any information or proof to suggest the men broke any laws.
Robert Levinson, a former FBI special agent and possible fourth American hostage, was last seen in Iran in 2007. His whereabouts remain unknown.
The Washington Post’s Rezaian, a dual citizen who has been detained in Iran for more than a year on espionage charges, was recently convicted in a verdict that has been kept hidden from the public.
Various state-run news outlets, including the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and Press TV, quoted Marzieh Afkham, a spokeswoman for Iran’s foreign ministry as saying “the sentence for Mozaffar Khazaee is totally unfair.”
“Arrest and imprisonment of the Iranian nationals by the US government on baseless and unfounded reasons is unacceptable,” noted Afkham, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
Analyses by the U.S. Air Force and victim defense contractors, cited by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in an Oct. 23 press release, revealed that “the technical data that Khazaee stole would have helped Iran ‘leap forward’ ten years or more in academic and military turbine engine research and development, reducing their investment in such technology by one to two billion dollars and potentially enhancing the development and effectiveness of their weapon systems.”
Various DOJ officials involved in the arrest and prosecution of Khazaee, including Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division Randall Coleman, declared that the dual citizen’s actions could have put U.S. national security at risk.
Press TV reports that Khazaee, who has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, denied the charges, claiming his emails amount to no more than scientific research and are in no way linked to sensitive U.S. military issues.
“I never sold anything to anybody,” Khazaee, 61, formerly of Manchester, Connecticut, told the U.S. district court, notes Reuters. “Had I known that making a PowerPoint presentation to an Iranian university in my attempt to get a job was breaking the law, I never would have taken the documents at all.”
On Oct. 23, Khazaee was sentenced to more than eight years and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for trying to send hundreds of sensitive American military documents to Iran as he applied for teaching jobs at universities there run by the state.
He was sentenced by U.S. federal judge Vanessa Bryant of the District of Connecticut for “violating the Arms Export Control Act by attempting to send Iran highly sensitive, proprietary, trade secret and export controlled material reading to U.S. military jet engines [including those relating to the U.S. Air Force’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and the F-22 Raptor], which he had stolen from multiple U.S. defense contractors where he had previously been employed,” explained the DOJ.
Khazaee was arrested at the Newark Liberty International Airport as he tried to leave the country for Iran.
“Search warrants executed on Khazaee’s checked and carry-on luggage revealed additional hard copy documents and computer media containing sensitive, proprietary, trade secret and export controlled documents relating to U.S. military jet engines,” noted the DOJ. “Khazaee was also found in the possession of $59,945.00 in as-yet undeclared cash, which he had split up into increments of approximately $5,000 and secreted in multiple bank envelopes in various places in his carry-on luggage.”
In addition to documents related to the F-35 JSF program and the F-22 Raptor, Khazaee also had materials relating to numerous other U.S. military engine programs, including the V-22 Osprey, the C130J Hercules and the Global Hawk engine programs.
“In total, Khazaee sought to export approximately 1,500 documents containing trade secrets and approximately 600 documents containing highly sensitive defense technology,” revealed the DOJ.
On February 25, the defendant pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful export and attempted export of defense articles from the U.S. in violation of the Arms Export Control Act.
“Violations of the Arms Export Control Act, particularly those involving attempts to transfer sensitive defense technology to a foreign power, are among the most significant national security threats we face, and we will continue to leverage the criminal justice system to prevent, confront, and disrupt them,” said John Carlin, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security.
Iran has reportedly claimed that the U.S. is holding 19 Iranians in custody for allegedly violating U.S.-imposed sanctions.
“It was not immediately clear if Khazaee is one of the 19,” notes the Associated Press (AP).
“Iranian officials have hinted at a possible prisoner exchange involving the release of Americans held in Iran… However, Iran’s judiciary has rejected the idea of an exchange,” it adds.