You’ve Heard Of I.T.A.R., But Have You Heard Of B.I.S.?

2000px-US-DOC-BureauOfIndustryAndSecurity-Seal.svg

In the past two months ITAR has gotten the limelight due to the DDTC’s issuing new guidance on ITAR. You can refresh yourself by clicking here and reading about it.

Well ITAR is a set of regulations which are enforced by Department of State Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), there are other entities that enforce exportation. US Customs is one entity many of you are familiar with, well there is a third party that has been operating without the limelight. They are the Bureau of Industry & Security (BIS).

Their mission statement:

Advance U.S. national security, foreign policy, and economic objectives by ensuring an effective export control and treaty compliance system and promoting continued U.S. strategic technology leadership.

How do I know of this organization? They came to my house. Two agents came from NY to investigate me based on something I ignorantly tried to ship. Last December a friend, from Hong Kong, asked me to get him a newly released red dot sight. He is an avid Airsofter and I did not know red dots are regulated for export. Stupid me. Customs seized the red dot in Chicago. I investigated further and there would be a fine to get the red dot back. However it would cost as much as the optic. It was not worth it so it was abandoned. In the future I could get a license to export optics. I looked it up but it would cost a couple thousand dollars paid to ITAR. Not worth it for trying to help a friend. I’m not making a business out of this.

I thought that was the end of it. How naive of me. Later I received a call from Special Agent Perry asking if I was home. I was not, so we made arrangements to meet the following day. Two agents came to my house that day. They were investigating the provenance behind the red dot shipped to Hong Kong. They were concerned it might be a more serious problem.

I showed them all the correspondence between me and my friend. They were satisfied that this was a one time event. Special Agent Perry had a list of every item I had shipped internationally for the past year. I have shipped quite a lot to friends in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. All of them were for toys such as airsoft and Nerf. Yes Nerf is what people in Singapore are left to play with since paint ball and airsoft are illegal there. And I don’t mean a slap on the wrist and a fine. Airsoft is treated like a firearm. You will go to jail if you are in possession of an airsoft gun.

Special Agent Perry told me that they are tasked with following up and investigating people trying to export certain items. Optics is one of the red flagged items. They monitor where shipments are sent. Russia is a HUGE no no. They told me they have seen an increase of higher end optics going to Russia which then find their way to Syria and other places. So it is truly a matter of National Security. They shared with me one of the biggest problems is selling online like eBay. The buyer asks the seller to ship to a third party. Where it gets repackaged and reshipped out of the country. Those operations are often run by criminals.

There is some good news about this encounter. I learned about the BIS and that they can grant licenses to export items like optics. For example, if my friend in Hong Kong and I want to go into business together I can get a license. Say I ship 100 red dots in the course of 5 years to the same guy. I can get a license for that. However there is an aspect that needs careful attention. It is the end user. The BIS keeps an updated list of people who are not supposed to receive the items they regulate. As an exporter you need to know who the end user will be and they need to be vetted. Once that is done, you are granted a license to export. The best part? It is free.

I dodged a bullet and learned a valuable lesson from this experience. I hope you can glean something from this and learn about a governing agency that many of us are oblivious to. If you want to learn more about the Bureau of Industry & Security you can check them out at BIS.doc.gov.



Nicholas C

Co-Founder of KRISSTALK forums, an owner’s support group and all things KRISS Vector related. Nick found his passion through competitive shooting while living in NY. He participates in USPSA and 3Gun. He loves all things that shoots and flashlights. Really really bright flashlights.

Any questions please email him at nicholas.c@staff.thefirearmblog.com


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  • Buddy_Bizarre

    That’s pretty interesting that a casual exporter can get a license for free. I’m sure the red tape & waiting time are nothing to sneeze at, so someone would need to be serious about it.

  • Mystick

    The money you would need to throw at lawyers to ensure compliance with voluminous regulations and possible subsequent prosecutions for minor violations(some of which are completely out of your control such as carrier compliance) makes it not worth it for anything but a dedicated I/E operation, and certainly not “free”…

    • KestrelBike

      Time is money, for starters.

    • demophilus

      I’ve worked in export controls, and know it’s hard to work your way through the labyrinth. The easiest ways are to find a good Customs broker or freight forwarder, or do some prep work with the shipper’s compliance team. You can’t just drop your shipment off at the counter.

      It’s not so much that the licenses available are “free” as they’re license exceptions, or open — EAR99, LVS (low value shipment), and more. It takes some brains and hard work to find a compliance strategy that fits, but if you do, it can be painless. Nobody in the gummint wants to stop a shipment unless it’s *really* hinky — that means work, filling out forms and writing reports.

      The key to dealing with bureaucrats is, don’t make them think. That ramps up your risk considerably.

      • Mystick

        Of course, all of those strategies involve paying someone to navigate a maze of red tape, cutting into profits.

  • gunsandrockets

    The Global Village really isn’t.

  • BattleshipGrey

    Don’t forget about T.M.A.A.L.T.T. (Too Many Alphabet Agencies Leads To Tyranny).

    • oldman

      Then it may already be to late for us.

    • Klaus Von Schmitto

      It leads to SWAT teams you didn’t know existed shooting the hell out of your dining room.

  • Joseph Goins

    Remember as well that if an item is able to leave America does not mean that it is legal to have imported it to the other country. They can bring charges against you.

  • Lew Siffer

    from Atlas Shrugged, written over half a century ago…

    Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?…We want them broken…. There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt.

    • QuadGMoto

      One of the books on my list to read is “Three Felonies a Day”. The authors make the case that the laws are so complicated that everyone commits an average (or maybe it’s “at least”) three felonies every single day. If someone in the government wanted to mess with you, they would have the legal justification to do so.

      Or as Stalin’s chief of the KGB put it, “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.”

      Fortunately, as Nicholas inadvertently discovered, most people in our government aren’t interested in starting a vendetta against the average citizen. Simple mistakes or misunderstandings are usually not prosecuted. Still, it’s always best to make an effort to know what the laws are so you can avoid breaking them.

      • Roy G Bunting

        OTOH there is always a crime to point to should a person be shot for “Failing to comply” with the officer’s commands. While most people in our government aren’t interested in starting vendettas with average citizens, there is always a fig leaf for if the government decides that a person might be too much trouble. We know that they consider political activism reason to surveil, a shift in the wind and we are all “activists” to watch or otherwise deal with.

        Not to mention how possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony leads to enhancements of sentences. I have a pretty good idea of what my collection would look like spread over a table on the prime time news.

  • QuadGMoto

    I’ve noticed that Optics Planet and some other online retailers seem to be really good at listing which items are restricted for export. I’m often surprised at what is restricted.

  • JamesG3

    “Special Agent Perry had a list of every item I had shipped internationally for the past year.”

    I’m surprised at the lack of choking over this sentence.

    • oldman

      If you ship internationally and don’t expect the government to keep track then you have seriously underestimated the government. My guess is they could have produced a record of everything he ever shipped out of the country.

      • JamesG3

        Having lived overseas (and around the corner from the local FSB/KGB offices), I’m sure of that (sure that we’re at least as much a surveillance state now as they are), and you’re probably right about further records. I’m just amazed at how cozy we frogs are in the kettle.

        • oldman

          Now? This has ben going on for decades here they are just becoming more obvious about it. I have a friend that used to ship things all around the world He tried to ship a few high end calculators to a friend who taught math over seas turns out they were restricted tech at that time.

          • JamesG3

            I’m talking 2.5 decades for my part. The frog and kettle reference of course is long term, not quickly. That’s how it works.

  • BrandonAKsALot

    Imagine the damage if a red dot sight made it into the wrong hands! Think of the children! I cannot even think of what would happen if they got hold of a VFG or adjustable stock. Too scary.

  • flyingburgers

    The problem is real. The stuff going to Hong Kong and Singapore ends up with terrorist groups around the region like Abu Sayaaf. Saw this first hand in Hong Kong, a Filipino woman walked into a ham radio shop with a list and an order for big bucks equipment, and had no idea what she wanted. Paid in cash and walked out. Look at the pictures of seized equipment, it’s all there.

    • smurf

      Why is this any of our business? If Abu Sayaaf is doing evil with ham radios, red dots or a pair of scissors, then go after Abu Sayaaf.

      Your logic is slippery and can be used to rationalize unwarranted searches and more nanny state intrusion into our lives.

      • flyingburgers

        Lets sell Abu Sayaaf some Sidewinders while we’re at it. Then we can go after them.

        You need to accept reasonable export controls, or else the other option is to classify the technology and completely restrict it from civilian ownership. And it happens. All the night vision technology you see here is one to two generations old… those thermal IR cameras people get excited about are basically obsolete from a military standpoint.

        • smurf

          I cannot legally get my hands on any sidewinders to export in the first place – but I digress.

          I’m talking about walking into my Walmart and buying unregulated items (not firearms). If I can slip a $100 bill across the counter and leave with a entry level optic anonymously, that’s an item the “powers that be” deem benign.

          So to then extrapolate that such an item is in the interest of “national security” is hogwash.

          • flyingburgers

            In the 1970s, the Soviets smuggled CNC equipment through Germany. It was found that they were used to machine submarine propellers. Recently, the Japanese were caught red handed illegally selling metrology equipment to the Libyan nuclear bomb program.

            So tell me, what do you support? It has to be one of these three:
            A. Let countries develop nuclear bombs unrestricted and terrorist groups get the latest military technology?
            B. Ban all such technologies, like computer clusters, red dot sights, CNC machines, encryption software, and guns from civilian ownership?
            C. Accept reasonable export controls for dual-use technologies?

            Guns fall under the exact same export control system (ITAR/USML). Why do you think there’s a box about citizens and permanent residents? If you can’t buy a Sidewinder, isn’t that a “slippery slope” to banning guns?

          • smurf

            Why don’t you ask me when I stopped beating my wife?

          • Friendly Man

            Given that the design for the submarine propellors- like many other things such as drone technology- was probably sold to the Russians after being given to Israel for free, I fail to see your point.

          • Mark

            The winner. The most evil nations already have nukes and cutting edge technology.

  • This event highlights the giant boondoggle that is the federal gov’t and its regulations. They can’t stop the flow of anything to or from anywhere. It’s not like the Russian’s can’t make decent quality optics and the same is true of China. The are using 1950’s like tactics in a global economy. Hell, they can’t stop the flow of fine Mexican made Meth that’s being muled across the Sonoran Desert.

  • Blue Centurion

    Staying away from the political and conspiracy conversations, I was training with a couple of these guys this past summer. I had never heard of their bureau but after sitting down with them, found them to be stand up guys. ITAR is nothing to be laughed at and knowing it before sending gear to friends etc overseas is always a good decision.

    In discussion with these guys, there has been a big problem with Russian Organized Crime illegally exporting many items including Thermal Imaging and Night Vision gear. There are plenty of Russians in the USA who despite their US citizenship and US freedoms, still hold allegiance to Russia and are exporting (illegally) high speed gear etc., to be used by the Russian Separatists in Ukraine. Syria…maybe some, but most of this gear ends up on some thug’s AK in in Eastern Ukraine.

    These items also end up in Russia and China being ….guess what….copied and used in their own armed forces.

    • smurf

      Interesting.

      Why does our .gov decide who’s a friend or foe? It’s not like they have a good geo-political track record to give the credibility. I can’t think of a single instance where regime change has a net positive for any party in my lifetime, but I digress…

      • RSG

        I don’t think they are making case by case decisions. That’s why the export of ALL listed ITAR items is prohibited, regardless of destination.

        • flyingburgers

          No it’s not. All it means is you need an export license. There is a complex matrix of which countries and what items you can export without a license. For example, most things can go to Canada automatically, while you need a license for a lot more going to China. There are two bodies which make the decision. Weapons and military technology go through Department of State DDTC. Dual-use technologies like computers go through Department of Commerce BIS.

  • mazkact

    Nothing cutting edge about a red dot but I guess the line must be drawn somewhere. I’m old fashioned conservative and still remember Patriotism. I’m all for keeping our hi-tech stuff here if at all possible. It amazes me to think of all the secret tech and strategies that was kept secret during WW II. Men like Bill Donovan are scarce these days.