U.S. MADE ELECTRONIC COMPONENTS THAT COULD BE USED IN WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION ARE BEING SMUGGLED INTO IRAN -- "60 MINUTES"
In his First Interview, Accused Middleman Denies Smuggling Charges
Could crucial parts of the equipment Iran is using in its uranium enrichment facility have come from the U.S.? American law enforcement authorities say sensitive devices and electronics are being smuggled into Iran. A photo of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, where Iranian officials say they've begun enriching uranium, seems to show an American component crucial to the enrichment process. Lesley Stahl's report on the smuggling of American made technology and electronics into Iran will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Feb. 14 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
In a photograph of Ahmadinejad taken in March 2007 at the Natanz facility a piece of lab equipment right behind the Iranian president may be American made. The device is called a pressure transducer. "The Iranians are trying to acquire these transducers," says Special Agent Clark Settles of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which investigates these proliferation cases. "It's an integral part of enriching uranium," he tells Stahl. Watch an excerpt.
Despite the U.S. sanctions against trade with Iran, the Iranians are able to siphon technology because much of the equipment can also be bought and used for non-military purposes, in the medical or telecommunications fields for instance. Middlemen, usually small trading companies, can obtain these materials legally only then to divert them, by transshipping them to third party countries, to Iran. The scope of the problem was realized in 2005, when the U.S. military discovered US-made components in improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in Iraq. The subsequent investigation revealed that American companies were tricked into sending them to middlemen in Dubai, from there they were diverted to Iran and ended up in Iraq. "They're finding that on a regular basis: that there are U.S. components inside of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan," says ICE Special Agent Settles.
Iran's aggressive smuggling efforts had gotten so worrisome that in 2007 the government launched a multi-agency initiative spearheaded by the U.S. Justice Department to investigate and stop the illicit trade. It's led and coordinated by David Kris, head of the National Security Division at the Justice Department. He says smugglers can be found all over the world, including right here in the U.S. "The Iranians will exploit an opportunity if they see one...whether the guy is an international arms dealer, with a mink coat and a private jet, or a guy operating out of a basement," he tells Stahl. The U.S. has indicted over a hundred smugglers working for Iran in the three years since the initiative was launched.
Currently, the detention of one accused smuggler has triggered an international dispute between Iran, the U.S. and France. Majid Kakavand from Tehran was arrested on a U.S. warrant while in Paris on vacation. He is accused of tricking several American companies into shipping tens of thousands of electrical components to Iran, via Malaysia. One of his clients in Iran was IEI - Iran Electronic Industries - a company that sells and builds electronics for the Iranian military. In one example, a Huntsville, Ala., company sold him a spectro-reflectometer, a measuring device with many uses, among them, the U.S. government argues, the ability to enhance the design of long-range missiles. On Feb. 17th a French court is scheduled to rule on whether Kakavand will be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial.
In an exclusive interview Kakavand says, "I'm not a criminal. I haven't done anything. I am innocent... It seems I am a victim of the existing policies between Iran and the United States." His lawyer, Diane Francois, continues, "Nowhere else in the world this is considered a crime....The United States is somehow asking foreign countries to recognize their embargo," she tells Stahl. But the U.S. says Kakavand was doing business in the U.S., not France and he lied to obtain the goods.