An F-35B test aircraft flies in short takeoff/vertical landing mode in November. A naturalized US citizen was arrested last week on charges of attempting to ship technical data on the plane to Iran. (Lockheed Martin)
WASHINGTON — A man was arrested on charges of attempting to ship technical data from the F-35 joint strike fighter to Iran, according to the US Attorney for the District of Connecticut.
Mozaffar Khazaee was arrested Jan. 9 at Newark International Airport in New Jersey after the first leg of a trip to Tehran. Khazaee, who became a naturalized US citizen in 1991, was charged with “transporting, transmitting and transferring in interstate or foreign commerce goods obtained by theft, conversion, or fraud,” a crime that carries a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
According to a US government affidavit, federal agents began investigating Khazaee in November, when he attempted to send a shipment from Connecticut to the Iranian city of Hamadan. When agents inspected the shipment, they found “numerous boxes of documents consisting of sensitive technical manuals, specification sheets, and other proprietary material for the F-35. Those documents came from a company that Khazaee had last worked at in August of 2013.
Overall, the shipment included thousands of pages of documents, including diagrams and blueprints of the high-tech fighter jet’s engine. Some of the information was marked as being ITAR- and export-controlled information.
The affidavit does not identify which company Khazaee was employed by, but said he worked on a team conducting strength and durability evaluations for components for military engines. However, Matthew Bates, a spokesman for engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, confirmed that Pratt is the company referred to as “Company A” in the affidavit.
“Pratt & Whitney has been cooperating fully with the government on this matter and will continue to do so,” Bates said. “Because the investigation is ongoing, any additional questions about the investigation are better suited for the government to address at the appropriate time.”
Property of two other unidentified companies was also included in the shipment. Rolls-Royce, a subcontractor on the engine program, is one possibility; the affidavit cites Khazaee as returning to Indiana, home of Rolls-Royce, after he left Connecticut.
A spokesman for Rolls confirmed that Khazaee is not a current employee, but deferred further comment to the Department of Justice.
A spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin, the lead contractor on the program, said the company is cooperating fully with the investigation but declined further comment “as the investigation is on-going.”
“The F-35 Joint Program Office has been alerted to the investigation, and will cooperate fully with legal authorities pursuing the case,” Joe DellaVedova, the program’s Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. “No additional comment will be made while the investigation is ongoing.”
In early 2013, government officials acknowledged that hackers, most likely Chinese in origin, had stolen information about the fifth-generation fighter, which is expected to be the backbone of American air superiority over the next several decades. ■