Two men arrested in effort to illegally export camera

Device made in Easton, used for surveillance, was destined for Pakistan

January 25, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

U.S. Customs officials arrested two men yesterday on charges they tried to illegally export a sophisticated surveillance camera made in Maryland to Pakistan.

The camera would have been used on unmanned planes, possibly to help Pakistan spy on or target weapons in neighboring India, officials said. Tensions between the countries have been running high for months, especially after both detonated nuclear weapons in tests in 1998.

"We want to do everything we can to prevent the escalation of a conflict," said Allan Doody, special agent in charge of the U.S. Customs Service office in Baltimore, which handled the case.

Customs agents arrested Tanzeem Khan, a naturalized U.S. citizen, in Kansas, and Tauquir Khan, a Pakistani visiting on a student visa, in Iowa.

Both were charged with violating arms export laws and will be brought to Baltimore for trial in U.S. District Court, officials said.

In court documents, customs officials laid out the undercover operation, code-named "Operation Raven," which centered on an Easton company, BAI Aerosystems, that creates high-tech drone planes and the cameras carried on board.

Customs officials said two men approached BAI in April about making two spy cameras for an unmanned airplane.

Each pan tilt-zoom camera costs $13,000, officials said, and can be used for reconnaissance or to find targets on a battlefield. The men told BAI that they would be delivering the devices to a research firm in Pakistan. In turn, BAI began building the cameras, customs officials said.

In August, BAI learned from the U.S. State Department that it is illegal to sell the cameras to Pakistan under the Arms Control Act because of Pakistan's nuclear weapon test in May 1998, customs agents said.

BAI passed that information along to the two men, who then tried to persuade BAI to build the cameras anyway, agents said. BAI then contacted customs agents, who began developing an undercover plan, officials said.

BAI called the two customers and told them they could go through a third party to get the cameras, officials said. That third party was an undercover customs agent.

Customs eventually contacted the two men and set up an elaborate trap, which included 52 tape-recorded conversations about buying the cameras, officials said.

The men decided to send the cameras through Germany and then to Pakistan in an effort to elude U.S. officials, authorities said. This month, the two men deposited $25,000 in the undercover agent's account for the cameras and created fake documents saying they were shipping the cameras only to Germany, officials said.

Customs officials said they were not sure why the men wanted to buy the equipment. "Typically, they don't tip their hands about what they are going to use [the devices] for," Doody said.

But Pakistan and India have engaged in border skirmishes for years over Kashmir, an area on the border of the two countries that is under Indian control.

This week, Indian officials extended a cease-fire in the zone even as attacks continued from a Pakistan-based group of Islamic militants.

India and Pakistan have waged two wars over the region since 1947, when they were granted independence from Great Britain.

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