SAN DIEGO - A Chinese national who lives in Connecticut pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring to illegally export military-grade accelerometers used in "smart bombs" and missiles from the United States to the People's Republic of China.
Qing Li, 39, of Stamford, Conn., admitted in U.S. District Court yesterday that she knowingly conspired with her co-conspirator to buy and export the piezoresistive accelerometers to a customer described in court papers as a "special" scientific agency in China. The guilty plea is a result of a seven-month undercover investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).
San Diego ICE and DCIS agents arrested Li at New York's JFK International Airport in October 2007 as she was checking in to board a flight to China.
"The national security implications of this case cannot be underestimated," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in San Diego. "ICE agents in San Diego foiled a potentially dangerous smuggling scheme. In the wrong hands, technology like this could be used to inflict harm upon America or its allies."
"This guilty plea represents just one of many successful investigations that are being aggressively pursued by the DCIS," said Rick W. Gwin, special agent in charge for the DCIS Western Field Office. "Protecting the U.S. military's sensitive technology from illegal export continues to be an investigative priority pursued by DCIS in support of America's war fighters throughout the world."
The piezoresistive accelerometer measures massive shocks and has many military applications, including use in "smart" bombs and missile development. The accelerometer is designated as a defense article on the United States Munitions List and cannot be exported from the United States without written permission from the United States Department of State. The United States maintains an arms embargo against China, and the State Department's policy is to deny permission for the export of defense articles to China.
According to court papers, from April 2007 to October 2007, Li and her co-conspirator used e-mail messages and telephone calls to negotiate the illegal export transaction with an undercover ICE agent in San Diego, who repeatedly stressed the illegality of the transaction. Li and her co-conspirator urged the undercover agent to deliver the accelerometers directly to China, advising the undercover agent that if the accelerometers tested properly, large orders would follow. According to court papers, during a three-way telephone call, when the undercover agent advised Li and her co-conspirator that the accelerometers are used to measure massive explosions, and even nuclear explosions, Li's co-conspirator stated that "our client knows exactly what this thing is used for."
Li, a legal permanent resident of the United States, is scheduled to appear for sentencing September 26, 2008 at 9:00 a.m. before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
ICE's Counter Proliferation Investigations Unit is responsible for investigating the illegal export of U.S. military products and sensitive technology. Since early 2006, ICE doubled the number of agents assigned to the Unit, resulting in record numbers of violators being brought to justice. In fiscal year 2007, the Unit made 186 arrests, obtained 159 indictments, and achieved 115 convictions.