Busted Iranian Arms Agent Tells of Iran War Preparations

An Iranian government agent, who was secretly arrested two years ago and extradited to the U.S. for trying to export high tech American military equipment to Iran, told U.S. undercover agents he was helping his country prepare for a war with the United States that Iran was convinced was coming.

The agent, Amir Hossein Ardebili, was secretly arrested overseas in Central Asia in October 2007 and pleaded guilty to charges that he violated the Arms Export Control Act, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, smuggling conspiracy and money laundering. The arrest and guilty plea were announced Wednesday by the U.S. attorney for Delaware, David C. Weiss.

Ardebili pleaded guilty to the charges in May 2008. The U.S. government says the case shows an expansive effort by Iran to obtain parts to maintain their aging air force and develop more advanced air defense systems.

According to the government’s sentencing memo, “Ardebili acquired thousands of components for the government of Iran valued at approximately $1 million annually. Ardebili was involved in the acquisition of a wide range of components, including military aircraft parts, Kevlar, night vision devices and communications equipment. Most of his acquisitions involved electronics components.”

According to the memorandum, when asked by an undercover ICE agent why he was obtaining such a wide array of technologies, Ardebili said, “If the United States come to war…the government [of Iran] could defen[d]…Because they think the war is coming.”

The memo also notes, “By his own admission, Ardebili was assisting Iran in preparing for war with the United States. He was a prolific acquisitions agent…he procured whatever the Iranian government required to maintain and upgrade its military capability. His procurement activities ranged over a wide range of military applications from military aviation to sonar to radar.”

“The illegal export of U.S. military technology, particularly when placed in the hands of people suspected of providing support to our adversaries, is one of the most significant threats to our national security,” said James B. Burch, deputy inspector general for investigations at the Pentagon.

The investigation into Ardebili stems back to 2005 when he was focused on the purchase of computer circuits, QRS-11 gyro chip sensors, that could be used for development of guided missiles, including long-range missiles which Iran has actively been trying to develop along with their nuclear program.

Ardebili initially contacted undercover agents in Boston to try and obtain the sensors and later reached out to undercover U.S. agents in Philadelphia to obtain key parts for radar defense systems and air data computers which could be used for Iran’s F-4 fighter planes.

Once the ICE agents arranged to meet Ardebili overseas in October 2007 with the items he requested, they showed him the materials and discussed shipping the items to Iran. “Ardebili confirmed that all of his customers are located in Iran and that all of his requests he sends are for Iran Electronics Industries,” according to the government’s memorandum.

During one of the October 2007 meetings, Ardebili told agents, “They [Iran] are making special radar…phased array radar for protection, anti-missile.”

According to officials, the meetings took place in a country in the Caucasus over two days in October 2007. It was during these meetings that Ardebili called contacts in Iran and arranged for wire transfers to be sent to undercover bank accounts. One former official who worked on the case said, “He’s a bona fide bad guy.”

According to the government documents, once he was arrested, agents were able to seize his laptop and review additional records providing additional information about his dealings.

In a statement, John Morton assistant secretary for ICE said, “America’s most sensitive technology should never be allowed to pass into unintended hands. We work every day to disrupt the illegal trade of sensitive technology and ICE continues to take aggressive action against those who violate our proliferation laws.”

Ardebili is due for sentencing by a federal judge Dec. 14, 2009.