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.