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NASA Government Security Space The Military Science

NASA Boss Accused of Breaking Arms Trade Laws 88

ananyo writes "The head of NASA Ames Research Center may have fallen victim to restrictive arms regulations — just as a US government report recommends changing them to help the space industry. Simon 'Pete' Worden, who recently announced that Mars exploration would be done by private companies, has been accused of giving foreign citizens access to information that falls under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). ITAR has hampered U.S. firms seeking to export satellite technology. The allegations against Worden come just as the new report recommends moving oversight of many commercial satellites and related activities from the State department to the Commerce department, and some fear they could provide lawmakers with reasons to not ease export controls."
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NASA Boss Accused of Breaking Arms Trade Laws

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  • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @02:03PM (#39880425)

    ITAR serves an important purpose by stating what technologies/goods should not be given to other countries because they comprise munitions or technologies related to them. But the trick is that controlling information is a problematic thing, especially when you get into esoteric aspects of technology. It gets even worse with "dual-use" technologies. A while back, Toshiba fell afoul of similar rules when they shared technology they use in their washing machines with a company in the USSR. Unfortunately, that same technology is also used to make quieter screws (propellers, for you land-loving sorts) for ships, and thus, submarines. At one point, the 128-bit encryption-capable version of Internet Explorer was equally prohibited for export.

    The rules also seem totally nuts when you see how they play out. You can discuss things with US Citizens, but only if you're in the US. Unless you're abroad, but in a place the US controls. But not if you're in the US and there's a person here on a visa nearby.

  • by Shoten ( 260439 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @02:09PM (#39880489)

    Before you blame post-9/11 security paranoia, this law was made to cover spacecraft in good ol' 1998. Dumb government bureaucracy can happen even in peaceful, profitable times.

    No it wasn't. ITAR was enacted in 1976, in the midst of the Cold War, and it's always included far more than just anything related to spacecraft. It was originally meant to restrict a lot of different technologies, and has since been expanded to even cover software and algorithms of certain sorts. It covers both technology and goods, and the list of what is covered is enough to make you want to put a gun in your mouth and "export" your brains all over the wall. It's a truly nightmarish thing to comply with in today's world, if you handle any interesting technology development whatsoever.

  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @02:44PM (#39880823)
    Not to mention the fact that what does or doesn't fall under the ITAR umbrella is open to interpretation and changes almost daily. Shit, I remember when Xenix implementations that had the crypt() routine in libc.a were not allowed to leave the country.
  • Re:Don't Be Silly (Score:4, Informative)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @02:52PM (#39880901)

    Exactly. Whether laws written by the government apply to the government depends entirely on exactly how embarrassing the situation is, and how well connected the particular politician (or other government official) is (versus how well connected his opponents are).

  • by alexander_686 ( 957440 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:00PM (#39880975)

    Apparently, satellite stands are covered by ITAR. Basically, we are talking about an aluminum table to hold up the satellite when people are working on it..

    Here is an old, but good article, []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 03, 2012 @03:30PM (#39881279)

    I wish it was restricted to dual use. I worked in the defense industry building stuff for the Navy, but no weapons, only commercial grade stuff. ITAR applies to that too. Our ITAR specialists use this example: If you buy a coffee pot off of the shelf of Wal-Mart, it is not ITAR controlled. If you now paint that coffee pot gray to fit to a Navy standard, and is in all other ways identical to the black one you bought, it is now a Defense Article and is ITAR controlled. Just by painting it the color the Navy wants.

    We ran into issues several times where we were given permission to tell a Canadian company what we wanted (called a TAA, granted by the State Dept and takes about 6-8 months to process), basically giving them performance specs of a system we wanted so they could quote us a system that met those specs. It came in, but there was a defect. So we sent it back to get it repaired. By sending back our supplier's own product to his facility to get a defect fixed, we violated ITAR because we were not given the right to export material, only data (that's called an MLA, and can take 10-14 months to process).

    And by the way, the term is not US Citizens. You can't use US Citizens, because under ITAR rules the definition of a US citizen doesn't invalidate that person from ITAR regulations (he may be a dual citizenship person, or a US citizen who is on a watch list). The term is non-US person.

    Ridiculous. I am so glad I moved to the commercial world.

  • Re:Don't Be Silly (Score:5, Informative)

    by RKBA ( 622932 ) on Thursday May 03, 2012 @07:46PM (#39884651)
    NASA is very strict about what leaves the county even in an employee email. Everything, including computer software and documentation, must be submitted to a department within NASA for approval and an ITAR compliance statement attached to it. It's such a hassle that it almost makes it impossible to work with international partners of friendly nations (Norway for example). It's probably about some mundane engineering material necessary to insure compatibility with an international partner that some bureaucratic bean-counter is trying to use to justify his or her otherwise undeserved salary.

Whenever people agree with me, I always think I must be wrong. - Oscar Wilde