Each spring, the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) rolls into Tampa, Fla. Representatives from a variety of companies, ranging from those that manufacture sensitive military technologies to suppliers of tactical gear, peddle their wares for conference attendees. Alongside industry personnel, you'll also find special agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tampa.
The team from HSI Tampa's National Security Group has attended SOFIC for the past five years with one primary goal – educate the more than 300 conference vendors about the potential dangers of illegal exports. Team members stroll between booths to share information about Project Shield America, HSI's industry outreach and enforcement initiative to prevent the illegal export of sensitive U.S. munitions and strategic technology to terrorists, criminal organizations and foreign adversaries.
For instance, companies should be suspicious if a customer pays in cash or makes payments in excess of the item's market value. Other red flags include abnormal shipping routes, a freight forwarding firm is listed as the final destination or the item does not correspond with the customer's line of business.
HSI's private industry partnership pays off. Each year, Project Shield America results in numerous investigative leads for HSI. Over the last five years, HSI has conducted more than 6,000 Project Shield America outreach presentations. Those presentations often lead to the arrest, indictment and conviction of an individual or company that is illegally exporting a critical piece of U.S. technology.
In January 2012, an outreach presentation led to the arrest of Bin Yang for the attempted export of a defense article without a license. He illegally tried to export military accelerometers, used in aircraft missiles, smart munitions and measuring explosions, to China. Yang agreed to meet an undercover HSI special agent in Bulgaria so the special agent could hand deliver two Endevco accelerometers to him. The meeting resulted in Yang's arrest and subsequent extradition to the United States to face charges. He pleaded guilty in January 2013.
"SOFIC serves as a great venue to build support for our agency so we can prevent prohibited nations from gaining protected U.S. technology," said McCormick. "We encourage the business community to notify us of any suspicious circumstances surrounding export transactions of high-technology items or services."
Report possible illegal export activity to 866-347-2423.