Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Our friends in Dubai

From the NYT (h/t EBoZ, who reads it so I don't have to):
Roadside bombings of American troops in Iraq were occurring with unnerving regularity when military investigators made a disturbing discovery: American-made computer circuits sold to a trading company in the United Arab Emirates had turned up in the bomb detonators.

That finding set off a clash with Washington last year when the Bush administration cited the diversion of the computer circuits to Iran, and eventually Iraq, as proof that the United Arab Emirates were failing to prevent American technology from slipping into the wrong hands. Administration officials said aircraft parts, specialized metals and gas detectors that have a potential military use had also moved through Dubai, one of the emirates, to Iran, Syria or Pakistan.

The diplomatic face-off, which drew little public attention, prompted the United States to threaten tough new controls on exports to the United Arab Emirates, an ally. The nation had invested billions to become a global trading hub and had begun a campaign to burnish its image in the United States after the uproar in 2006 over a proposal to allow a Dubai company manage some American port terminals.

The administration backed down only after the emirates promised to pass their own export control law. But it is unclear that much has changed nearly a year after the confrontation.

...American officials have been increasingly alarmed about trade in the United Arab Emirates since 2002, when the Commerce Department sent an inspector, Mary O’Brien, there. From her spot checks of factories, freight forwarders and other companies that had ordered American products subject to export controls, Commerce officials say, it was clear that dual-use goods, including computer equipment, were being diverted on a grander scale than imagined.

An entity said to be a woodworking shop, for example, had ordered a sophisticated American machine for making metal parts. The device, Ms. O’Brien knew, could also shape components for a missile system. The supposed factory contained almost no sawdust, and the few employees could not explain how they intended to use the machine.

“This is not right,” Ms. O’Brien said she had said to herself, convinced that she had turned up her first “briefcase business”— open for inspection, but closed for good as soon as she walked out.

She pressed a Dubai pistachio wholesaler on why he had bought an American infrared camera, which can detect living objects in the dark, and where it had gone. Later she found he had arranged its return from Iran, where it had apparently been diverted, while stalling a follow-up inspection.

In nearly 40 percent of her inspections in four years, she found that regulated items were missing or that the recipient would not cooperate. Many of those companies were placed on a list, warning American exporters to be careful when selling to them.

“This was a huge sieve,” said Lisa A. Prager, a former top Commerce export control official. “Almost nothing that said it was going to U.A.E. was staying in U.A.E.
Read the whole thing. It is an increasingly rare example of real reporting, even if it comes a couple of years after the fact.