ITT Will Pay Large Fine for Sharing Classified Data
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The U.S.-based conglomerate ITT has agreed to a $100-million fine. It's one of the largest criminal fines ever. The crime: allowing companies in China and other countries to get access to top secret information about night vision goggles used by the military.
NPR's Adam Davidson reports.
ADAM DAVIDSON: You might remember a lot of talk about night vision goggles during the ground war in Iraq exactly four years ago. U.S. military officials often said the U.S. Army owns the night because our soldiers have such advanced night vision technology. Night vision is crucial to American military dominance, says Kenneth Weinstein, Assistant Attorney General for National Security.
Mr. KENNETH WEINSTEIN (Assistant Attorney General for National Security): And here we had a corporation that was transferring that technology overseas to others who might use it themselves and, you know, heaven forbid might be used on our people at some point.
DAVIDSON: That corporation is ITT, which used to be a telephone company, but is now a big conglomerate that makes all sorts of things, including night vision goggles for the U.S. military. In 2001, ITT asked the supplier to manufacture some of the parts in those goggles. That supplier contacted companies in China, Singapore and the United Kingdom to see if they could make the parts. The supplier also sent technical plans for the goggle parts to those foreign companies. That's where ITT got in trouble.
ITT was required by U.S. law to get permission from the State Department before sending those technical specs overseas, says ITT Spokesman Tom Glover.
Mr. TOM GLOVER (ITT Spokesman): A few of our former employees tried to source a small number of parts overseas without attaining the appropriate license. That's wrong, we admit that's wrong.
DAVIDSON: Glover says ITT has spent a lot of time and money trying to figure out what went wrong and to make sure it never happens again. He also says ITT never sent or sold actual goggles, only the technical specs for a few small parts of the goggles, and not their core technology.
Mr. GLOVER: And without that technology it would be impossible for someone to reverse-engineer the goggles. That doesn't take away from the fact that that violations occurred and they were wrong.
DAVIDSON: Assistant Attorney General Weinstein says ITT isn't only guilty of sending those specs. It also repeatedly lied to the U.S. government. As is often said, the cover-up may have been worst than the original crime.
Mr. WEINSTEIN: You see a company that over time just started to regard the export control laws as a nuisance, as just an obstacle to doing business, an obstacle to be worked around.
DAVIDSON: Weinstein says there's no way to tell if any U.S. soldier will ever come to harm because of this violation. ITT sells more than $3 billion in supplies each year to the U.S. military. The Justice Department will allow the company to devote half of its $100-million fine to researching next generation night vision goggle technology. As long as it doesn't break U.S. law, ITT will be allowed to sell those new goggles to the U.S. military.
Adam Davidson, NPR News.