America's dirty rotten scoundrel enemies

The countries stealing sensitive U.S. technology aren't playing fair, complains the Bush administration.

Published October 11, 2007 7:12PM (EDT)

A half dozen Bush administration officials held a news conference Thursday morning to tout a new "Export Enforcement Initiative" aimed at combating the illegal transfer of "sensitive technologies."

No less than 108 countries, said Kenneth Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security, are busy at work attempting to get their hands on U.S. technology, ranging from obviously military tech such as night vision infrared goggles and spare F-14 parts, to "dual-use" tech, such as "triggered spark gap" electrical switches that hospitals use to zap kidney stones but that can also be employed to detonate nuclear weapons. The growth of illicit trade in such items, often midwifed by U.S.-based entrepreneurs simply looking to make a quick buck, is another example, said Julie Myers, assistant secretary of U.S. immigration and customs enforcement, of "how globalization has yet again shown it knows no bounds."

The proliferation around the world of technologies that can be used in weapons of mass destruction is definitely anxiety-inducing, though one finds it hard to be optimistic about the abilities of authorities to keep a lid on this box. But I was a little alarmed at how personally the Bush administration is taking this. These countries aren't just sneaky -- they're wimps!


Such countries have no interest in trying to match our technological progress through honest competition. They have no interest in undertaking the effort that this country undertook 50 years ago last week when we saw the first Soviet Sputnik orbiting the globe for the first time in history.

When we saw that, we mobilized all our industrial and human resources and we outpaced the Soviet space program with our brains and determination.

The technology-acquiring countries we're dealing with today have no interest in such a competition. They would rather let us develop the technology and then simply steal it from us.

A reporter asked which countries were at the top of the list. The answer: China and Iran.

I don't know about Iran, but my guess is that China is fully intent on "undertaking the effort" necessary to match U.S. technological progress by engaging in all the hard work necessary. Just as I have no doubt the U.S. would have been delighted to steal Soviet technology, should it have had the opportunity to do so during the Cold War. Impugning the technological manhood of other countries seems kind of dumb. What, you want them to get mad and try even harder?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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China Globalization How The World Works Iran Middle East