Beijing Illegally Bought Circuits

Article excerpt

Federal authorities have uncovered a major Chinese technology transfer program that illegally purchased thousands of U.S. radiation-protected computer chips for use in Chinese missiles and satellites.

The military-related technology-buying program was revealed in court papers released in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month after a raid on a Chinese company involved in selling "radiation-hardened" integrated circuits to Chinese government missile and satellite manufacturers, including several that were sanctioned in the past by the U.S. government for their missile sales.

The company, Means Come Enterprises Inc., is under investigation for "illegally exporting radiation-hardened integrated circuits to [the People's Republic of China] without the required [Commerce Department] export licenses," according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.

Three illegal diversions of the missile microchips by Means Come are described in a 27-page affidavit produced by the Commerce Department's Office of Export Enforcement before a search of the company's Orlando offices.

Commerce Department, U.S. Customs Service and Postal Service agents raided the Orlando offices of Means Come on May 3, seizing computers and documents related to the microchip transfers.

Officials of the company, which has offices in Orlando, Beijing, Hong Kong and Montreal, could not be reached for comment. Jim Hoyos, a Commerce Department export control investigator involved in the case, also declined to comment. "It's an ongoing investigation," he said.

The illegal diversion of U.S.-made radiation-hardened computer chips to China was first reported in The Washington Times on Jan. 26.

The raid on the Orlando company took place the same day FBI agents arrested two Chinese nationals and a third man for stealing Lucent Technologies software codes and selling them to China.

According to Commerce export agent Roy A. Gilfix, who wrote the affidavit in support of a federal search warrant, Means Come sold China 2,316 embargoed integrated circuits in shipments in February, May and November 1998.The chips were made by Harris Semiconductor, a Melbourne, Fla., subsidiary of the Harris Corp.

According to the affidavit, the radiation-hardened chips are used in missiles and require export licenses before being sold abroad.

Means Come Enterprises made its first export license application in March 1997, saying it wanted to buy 7,200 radiation-protected chips for the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST) for use in a satellite project, the affidavit states.

The license was turned down in June 1997 because the sale posed "an unacceptable risk" that the Chinese government-run academy would use the circuits "in missile proliferation activities," the affidavit said.

CAST and several other Chinese firms were sanctioned by the U. …