Texas Man Pleads Guilty To Smuggling Military And Space Equipment To Russia And China

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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A Texas man pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to smuggle equipment used in military and space technology to China and Russia, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) statement.

Peter Zuccarelli, 62, is charged with smuggling and exporting radiation hardened integrated circuits (RHICs) out of the United States without a license for use in Chinese and Russian space programs. He admitted to lying to U.S. suppliers that his company American Coating Technologies was the final destination for the RHICs when he had actually received funds to purchase and ship them overseas.

RHICs are used in satellites and other space technology to shield complicated equipment from radiation in low earth orbit (LEO).

“In furtherance of the conspiracy, Zuccarelli’s co-conspirator received purchase orders from customers seeking to purchase RHICs for use in China’s and Russia’s space programs,” the DOJ statement reads. “Zuccarelli received these orders from his co-conspirator, as well as payment of approximately $1.5 million to purchase the RHICs for the Chinese and Russian customers.”

Upon receiving the RHICs, Zuccarelli repackaged them and declared them as “touch screen parts,” successfully sending at least one shipment overseas. During the course of the investigation, Zuccarelli also falsified paperwork and made false statements. He faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Illegal exports of high-tech equipment America’s global rivals is an ongoing problem for the U.S.

In May, a Chinese national living in California was arrested for smuggling more than $100,000 worth of high-tech space equipment to her home country. Si Chen faces up to 150 years in prison if convicted of all 14 counts levied against her in an April federal grand jury. Chen is accused of conspiracy, money laundering, making false statements on an immigration application, and using a forged passport.

In 2016, Su Bin, a Chinese businessman, confessed to colluding with two individuals in China to steal U.S. military secrets from defense facilities between 2008 and 2014. Su Bin confessed to working with two Chinese agents to steal information on the American F-22 and F-35 jets.

China is suspected of using the stolen information to develop its own knock-off F-35. Chinese cyber criminals allegedly breached U.S. systems in 2009 and illegally acquired information on the F-35 program. The National Security Administration revealed that the intruders stole over 50 terabytes of data — the equivalent of over five Libraries of Congress — on the F-35 and other U.S. aircraft

Furthermore, Su Bin reportedly told his handlers that the tech he stole would “allow us to rapidly catch up with U.S. levels” and would let China “stand easily on the giant’s shoulders.”

Before China’s J-31, the American F-35 was the only fifth-generation fighter on the market. The Chinese company responsible for the J-31 said it hopes the aircraft will “put an end to some nations’ monopolies on the fifth-generation fighter jet.”

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