By Tom Reynolds, Export Solutions

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that a former Raytheon engineer was sentenced to 38 months in prison for violations of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).  According to the press release, Wei Sun, 49, pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating the AECA.  He was sentenced by District Court Judge Rosemary Marquez in Arizona.

Mr. Sun was previously employed by Raytheon Missiles and Defense, where he served for 10 years as an electrical engineer.  Mr. Sun is a Chinese national and a naturalized citizen of the United States.  Raytheon Missiles and Defense produces a broad portfolio of advanced technologies, including air and missile defense systems, precision weapons, radars, and command and control systems – delivering end-to-end solutions to detect, track and engage threats.

During his employment with Raytheon, Mr. Sun had access to technical data and other information related to a variety of defense-related technologies.  Some of this information met the definition of “defense articles” and “technical data” as spelled out in the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).  The Justice Department reports that, from December 2018 to January 2019, Mr. Sun traveled from the United States to China on a personal trip.  During this trip, he brought with him unclassified technical information on his company-issued computer.  Some of this information was ITAR-controlled.  Despite having received training from Raytheon on how to handle this information correctly, Mr. Sun knowingly transported the data to China without an export license or other approval from the U.S. Government.

“Sun was a highly skilled engineer entrusted with sensitive missile technology that he knew he could not legally transfer to hostile hands,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers.  “Nevertheless, he delivered that controlled technology to China.  Today’s sentence should stand as a warning to others who might be tempted similarly to put the nation’s security at risk.”

From the press release:

“The United States relies on private contractors to help build our unparalleled defense technology,” said United States Attorney Michael Bailey. “People who try to expose that technology to hostile foreign powers should know that prison awaits them. The close cooperation of the victim defense contractor and the dedication of the FBI made this case a success.”

This case highlights a growing trend in enforcement actions by the U.S. Government to target not only companies but also individuals who knowingly or willfully violate export control laws and regulations.  Based on the information in the press release, it would appear that Mr. Sun’s former employer provided adequate training and processes for its personnel to follow to ensure the proper handling of technical information for international travel.  It would also appear that Mr. Sun ignored this training and his company’s own policies when he traveled to China with the aforementioned laptop.  Raytheon seems to have cooperated with the U.S. Department of Justice to bring these charges against Mr. Sun.

Those of us in the export compliance community have seen cases in the past where a company failed to have proper policies and processes in place to control digital data.  Inevitably, it seems, there is often a failure to provide adequate training or to ensure that the documented policies are actually being followed by employees.  (The recent case of FLIR’s consent agreement is one example of this.)   However, in this situation, the company isn’t the one who fell victim to the penalty … the individual employee was.  (And spending 38 months in prison is a steep price to pay!)

If your company needs help complying with U.S. and international import/export regulations, schedule a no-charge consultation with one of our team members today.

Photo by Larry Farr on Unsplash

Tom Reynolds is the President of Export Solutions, a consultancy firm which specializes in helping companies with import/export compliance.