How America's high technology gets smuggled to the Soviet bloc

Technobandits, by Linda Melvern, David Hebditch, and Nick Anning. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 305 pp. $15.95.

''Technobandits'' may soon be regarded as required reading in the American high-technology industry.

It is the first book-length examination of the controversial issue of the smuggling of United States high technology to the Soviet Union. The book, which documents several of the most notorious cases of illegal high-tech diversion, is written in the style of a combination spy-thriller and journalistic expose.

The book's strength is that it endeavors to put real faces on many of the shadowy figures who, for the past several years, have made lucrative livings by buying and selling goods that have been controlled to protect US national security.

''Technobandits'' concentrates on exposing - as the book cover puts it - ''How the Soviets are stealing America's high-tech future.'' It details law enforcement successes and bureaucratic bumbling, as well as the heated intra-Washington feud between the Commerce Department and the Customs Service over who should be top dog in policing high-tech diversion. The book also examines the strain this issue has placed on the Western alliance.

Readers expecting solutions may be disappointed. The book touches on the larger, more difficult questions but tends to concentrate at length on the spy-like stories of technology smuggling. It does not provide an in-depth examination of how US export controls can be made more effective.

Nonetheless, ''Technobandits'' is an interesting and useful book - especially since the Commerce Department's recent announcement that large volume high-tech exporters will be required to keep a sharp eye out for potential technology smugglers.

The new regulations of the department - to take effect Jan. 15 - make it the responsibility of US high-technology firms and their employees to ensure that the company's products will not be illegally diverted to the Soviets. (In the past, enforcement responsibility fell entirely on government investigative agencies.)

Thus, a section of industrial America will soon gear up to head off such known diverters as Richard Mueller, Werner Bruchhausen, and Fredrich Linnhoff. In addition, America will probably be facing a new generation of even more sophisticated technobandits, say the authors.

''Technobandits know how to get around the rules that are in place now,'' says Melvern, an investigative reporter who has worked for the London Sunday Times. She adds, ''It's like the drug trade or the arms trade, no matter how you try to stop it it will be there - it will always be there.''

In addition to Melvern, the book was researched and written by Nick Anning, a Soviet scholar, and David Hebditch, an expert in computer crime and industrial espionage. Both are free-lance journalists in Britain.

The book devotes an entire chapter to Richard Mueller, perhaps the best-known and most sought technobandit. He is currently a fugitive. The authors call him a ''superbandit.''

Mueller, operating since 1974, is said by US officials to have set up some 41 dummy firms in Europe and Africa solely for the purpose of facilitating the diversion of sensitive US high tech.

He is the technobandit said to be behind the now-famous attempted VAX computer diversion last year from South Africa to the Soviet Union via West Germany and Sweden.

The diversion trail, as outlined by the authors, demonstrates the lengths to which determined smugglers may go to attempt to avoid detection.

According to the authors, the sensitive computers were transferred from one of Mueller's South African firms, Microelectronics Research Institute (MRI) to another of his South African firms, Optronix. The computers were then resold to a Swiss firm, Integrated Time AG. The Swiss firm was a subsidiary of Mueller's German firm, Deutsche Integrated Time. In the meantime, the computers had been loaded on a ship bound for Sweden and the Soviet Union.

The VAX computers in question had originally been legally licensed for export by the US government to MRI in South Africa, but under the condition that they not be resold or transhipped elsewhere.

The authors also provide added details of another case involving shipments of VAX computer systems to the East bloc via Mueller front organizations.

This fall Digital Equipment Corporation paid a $1 million fine as a result of a sale of VAX computers in 1982 from a Norwegian firm to Mueller's West German firm, Deutsche Integrated Time. At the time company officials did not realize the firm was a Mueller front.

But, according to the authors, the story didn't stop there. He still had to find a way to get the computers to the East bloc.

Earlier that year, the authors write, Mueller took over a failing organ company in West Germany and used its loading dock to re-crate and disguise the same VAX computers purchased by Deutsche Integrated Time. The contents of the boxes were listed on shipping documents as air conditioners, office furniture, light fixtures, and PVC foam filling.

Then on Oct. 29, 1982, according to the authors, a truck with Hungarian license plates carried the disguised computers across the East German border.

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