What cost security?

This first appeared as a Comment in the 4 June issue of Flight International

The USA’s legal mechanism for keeping military technology out of unfriendly hands is often ham-fisted and easily ridiculed. Consider the case of Bo Jiang, a Chinese researcher working for NASA who was arrested in April at Dulles airport. Suspected of attempting to flee with a laptop load of secrets, it turned out Bo was toting nothing more dangerous than porn.

An FBI raid on a scientist who had lost his job and was going home may seem paranoid, but had Bo been packing secrets, he would have fallen foul of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, or ITAR. Good thing, too, but ITAR has also been responsible for a steep decline in US companies’ satellite market share.

ITAR restrictions on exports are only part of that story, as companies in other countries have, after a late start, closed the technology gap. But it is good news that Washington no longer automatically classes satellites and components as military equipment. As the USA’s high-tech heavyweights return to the global market for civil satellites, the extra competition will accelerate innovation and lower prices.

There is still a real worry about sensitive technology. The challenge now is for the White House, with its newly restored export approval discretion, to strike a balance between protecting national secrets and promoting the commerce that generates the wealth that underpins American security.



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