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WASHINGTON — A Connecticut-area man has pleaded guilty to stealing technical data on the engines for the F-22 Raptor and F-35 joint strike fighter with the intent to ship it to Iran, the FBI announced Thursday.

Mozaffar Khazaee, 60, will be sentenced in May and faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

"While employed with U.S. defense contractors, Mozaffar Khazaee stole sensitive, proprietary and controlled technology to send it to Iran," Deirdre Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, said in the announcement. "The illegal export of our military technology compromises U.S. national security and reduces the advantages our armed forces currently possess."

According to the release, investigators found that between 2009 and 2013, Khazaee tried to transfer information from the defense industry back to Iran. During that time, he was employed by three different defense contractors, but was apparently seeking a job back in Iran, frequently contacting state-controlled technical universities offering access to his data.

At one point, Khazaee apparently wrote to a contact in Iran that as "lead engineer in these projects I have learned some of the key technique[s] that could be transferred to our own industry and universities," adding that he was "looking for an opportunity to work in Iran, and . . . transferring my skill and knowledge to my nation."

Although his stateside employers were not named in the announcement, engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney has confirmed that Khazaee was an employee of theirs during this period. Pratt manufactures the engines for both the F-22 and F-35.

Federal agents began investigating Khazaee in November 2013, when he attempted to send a large shipment of documents 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," according to a government notice last year.

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.

He was arrested Jan. 9 of 2014 while on his way to Tehran; he had further technical data on his person when he was seized.

It's not the only known case of industrial secrets being stolen from defense contractors being pursued by attorneys in Connecticut.

A former employee of United Technologies Research Center, a sister company to Pratt & Whitney, was arrested in November after he tried to transfer sensitive proprietary information on titanium used in a US Air Force program, most likely the F-35, to China.

China has long been suspected of corporate espionage on the joint strike fighter program, something only reinforced by the striking resemblance between its J-31 fighter and the F-35.

Email: amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @AaronMehta

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