The State Department has lifted a ban on exports of night-vision equipment that was imposed in 2007 on a U.S. company caught selling sensitive defense articles to China and other countries without a license.
Meanwhile, two key U.S. senators on Tuesday wrote to Gen. James L. Jones, the White House national security adviser, warning that the Obama administration’s plan to loosen controls on exports of sensitive goods and technology could undermine national security.
“We are concerned that potential adversaries have proven adept at acquiring sensitive technologies under the existing system, and that if not carefully tailored, proposed modifications to the system could exacerbate the problem,” Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, stated in the letter.
The State Department’s decision on ITT Corp., a defense contractor that makes military-grade goggles, monoculars and gun sights capable of seeing through darkness, followed the company’s plan to prevent future export violations, as well as its cooperation with the government’s investigation, administration officials said.
Three years ago, the State Department said ITT had sold sensitive information to China, Singapore and Britain for night-vision systems without proper export licenses, violating the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations rules, with some of the violations dating back to 1990.
Regarding the bipartisan letter from Mr. Kyl and Mr. Feingold, who generally hold opposite political views on other issues, a Senate aide said the letter is a sign of congressional concerns over plans by the White House to loosen export controls.
President Obama, in his State of the Union speech Jan. 27, said he planned to reform export controls as part of efforts to produce jobs.
“We are sure you agree with us that the first priority of evaluating the export control regime must be our national security,” the senators stated. “We respectfully await your detailed responses to our questions and request for information.”
The letter included a list of 15 detailed questions that included a veiled request to halt the Commerce Department’s Validate End User program that identified several Chinese companies as eligible for receiving sensitive exports, despite several of the firms being identified with past illicit arms activities.
The letter also asked if the administration had conducted a National Intelligence Estimate of the security compromises caused by illicit arms exports to rogue states and terrorists, and also whether a damage assessment was conducted of the illicit export of missile technology to China that took place in the late 1990s.
“This is a request to see all the analysis behind the plan for loosening export controls,” the Senate aide said. “The letter shows two key senators, a conservative and a liberal, uniting to question whether the administration’s plans for relaxing export controls will harm national security.”
On the ITT sanctions, the State Department said in a 2004 letter that ITT had improperly exported “night-vision and space remote sensing” equipment that was contrary to U.S. national security interest.
In a plea agreement, ITT was fined $50 million and committed to investing another $50 million in research, development and capital improvements for its night-vision products. The export ban was to have expired on March 28, and it was not clear why the State Department decided to end it earlier.
ITT, a high-technology engineering and manufacturing company, has taken “appropriate steps to address the causes of the violations and to mitigate any law enforcement concerns,” the department said in its notice, which was published in the Federal Register on Monday.
The White Plains, N.Y.-based company said it is committed to “following both the letter and intent of all U.S. laws and regulations.”
“ITT will continue to cooperate fully with all government agencies, auditors, customers and partners to protect our nation’s vital defense capabilities and technologies,” said David J. Albritton, vice president for communications.
Republican and Democratic congressional officials said there were no major objections to the State Department’s decision. Republican aides said the ITT case shows that current export controls work, and there is no reason for them to be eased, as Mr. Obama has proposed.