Iranian National in America Caught Sending High-Tech Trade Secrets to… Iran

Nearly a decade after 9/11, a veteran of Iran’s military was able to secure a green card, land a job with an aerospace contractor, and transmit trade secrets to his brother working on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. That is the disturbing takeaway from a 14-page indictment against Amin Hasanzadeh, a legal permanent resident from Iran, which was unsealed in a Michigan federal court last week.

According to the criminal complaint from the FBI, Hasanzadeh, 42, stole documents and technical data from the aerospace contractor where he was employed and emailed them to his brother Sina, who was working for companies that contribute to Iran’s cruise missile and nuclear weapons programs. He is also accused of lying on his immigration documents and concealing the fact that he was in the Iranian military. In addition to serving in Iran’s military, Amin also worked for an Iranian company that services Iran’s weapons programs prior to his emigration.

Shockingly, without any circumspection, Hasanzadeh was given a student visa in December 2010 and granted a green card in 2013 without any concern that his background in engineering and his plan to work on sensitive defense contractor projects here could compromise our national security and trade secrets.

From 2011 to 2013, he worked for Florida State University’s Center for Advanced Power Systems, a cleared defense contractor, “where he specialized in developing power electronics computer designs, modeling and simulation.” On January 12, 2015, Hasanzadeh obtained employment at an unnamed aerospace company (referred to as “Victim Company A” in the complaint) as a hardware engineer. Within six days of employment, according to the complaint, he began transmitting sensitive information though his personal email to his Iranian brother, a practice that continued through June 2016. The FBI believes, based on prior email correspondence with Sina, that Amin sought out this job for the very purpose of handing over this information. He allegedly sent drawings and schematics marked “confidential” that, according to company officials, “were critical to the development and use of one of Victim Company A’s most important projects.”

In 2014, he married an unnamed person of interest (referred to as “Person A” in the complaint) who herself came here as one of the many Iranian foreign students the year before. Amin is accused of sending her information as well. “Investigation revealed the existence of thousands of Victim Company A documents in Person A’s cloud storage that is associated with her University of Michigan email account,” read the complaint, which was signed on October 31. The Iranian spouse eventually overstayed her visa and is in the country illegally while she is attempting to apply for a green card.

What we have here are two individuals brought to the U.S. as Iranian students a decade after 9/11 who had suspicious backgrounds and came to study and work in highly technical fields. We’ve been in a de facto state of war with Iran since 1979, yet we’ve brought in 222,000 Iranian nationals on green cards from 2001 to 2018. There are currently 12,800 Iranian foreign students in this country, and we’ve brought in tens of thousands in recent years. How on earth can we trust the vetting for espionage or terrorism with this many people? When in our past history have we ever brought in so many immigrants from a country with which we have hostile relations? Immigration serves as the easiest conduit for them to advance their asymmetrical warfare against us.

“DHS needs to open an examination of how this happened and implement additional steps to improve the vetting,” warned Jessica Vaughan, who has studied immigration and national security at the Center for Immigration Studies for decades. “This case illustrates the inherent vulnerabilities in an open immigration system that fails to apply risk management principles and treats every applicant as if they were harmless, or even beneficial, to our country, especially if they come under the guise of a student or work visa. Certainly, some of the problems have been corrected under Trump’s new vetting standards, but there is no doubt more can be done, as we learn from every case.”

Thankfully, Trump shut off most visas and green cards from Iran, a policy whose time clearly could not have come soon enough. But there are so many other countries of concern from the Middle East and China that are not on the moratorium list and from which we bring in a tremendous number of immigrants and foreign students.

Vaughan points out that more stringent rules for Iranians seeking entry were implemented at the end of the Obama administration, after Hasanzadeh and his wife were admitted, but “Iranian-American advocacy groups expressed vehement opposition” to those changes. In 2016, Congress passed a law requiring nationals of Iran, Iraq, and countries on the terrorist sponsor list to obtain visas before entering the U.S., even if they are coming from a visa waiver country. Vaughan testified before Congress that the Obama administration granted waivers from these requirements, clearly against the intent of the statute.

“This case illustrates why they were necessary – even if a little late. We cannot continue to let the higher education industry and business interests exert so much influence over our admission and vetting policies, because they are in self-interested denial about the threat we face.”

After all, immigration policy is the first and most important line of defense against the asymmetrical warfare our enemies wage upon us every day. Iranian nationals aren’t the only potential threats to our homeland emanating from the mullahs. Lebanon, which is essentially controlled by Hezbollah, is a client state of Iran. Over 60,000 Lebanese have been granted green cards since 9/11, and the country is still not on the travel ban list. In September, the DOJ indicted Alexei Saab, a Lebanese national working for Hezbollah’s clandestine “Unit 910,” for surveilling targets in America. He successfully naturalized while he was flying back to Lebanon on numerous occasions to receive commando training with Hezbollah.

Last year, Todd Bensman, a former intel and counterterrorism official, wrote a three-part series on the threat of Unit 910 operatives immigrating here in light of the trials of Samer El Debek in Michigan and Ali Kourani in New York, who both had backgrounds and Hezbollah training similar to Saab’s.

Then there is the Sunni terrorist threat through immigration as well. Last month, Naif Alfallaj, spouse of a foreign student from Saudi Arabia, was sentenced on terrorism charges after it was revealed that he trained in the very same al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan that the 9/11 hijackers attended. He entered the country on a visa for the purpose of attending flight school!

Let’s not forget that although the Saudi government now has better relations with the U.S., many of the people living in Saudi Arabia are still sympathetic to the jihadists. While the Trump administration has clearly done a better job vetting these people and has shut off migration from a few countries, the flow is still too great to confidently weed out threats of terrorism, espionage, and cultural subversion through the immigration system.

There’s no point in combatting them there if we are going to bring their operatives to our shores. (For more from the author of “Iranian National in America Caught Sending High-Tech Trade Secrets to… Iran” please click HERE)

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