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Michigan Man Accused Of Funneling Trade Secrets To His Brother In Iran

The FBI and federal prosecutors say that an Iranian national, who is a U.S. permanent resident, stole confidential data from his employer and sent it to Iran.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
The FBI and federal prosecutors say that an Iranian national, who is a U.S. permanent resident, stole confidential data from his employer and sent it to Iran.

For more than a year, a man in Michigan stole sensitive technical data from his employer, according to federal prosecutors. He would then allegedly send it to his brother in Iran, who has connections to the Iranian military.

Amin Hasanzadeh, an Iranian national and a U.S. permanent resident, made his initial appearance in federal court on Wednesday on charges of fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property. According to the Federal Defender Office in Detroit, Hasanzadeh has not yet been assigned a lawyer.

Federal officials say that before applying for a visa in 2010 and coming to the U.S., the electrical engineer served in the Iranian military and, according to the criminal complaint, worked at a company linked to "the Iranian government's Cruise Division of Air & Space Organization."

In 2011, Hasanzadeh started working as a defense contractor in Florida, focusing on "developing power electronics computer designs," according to the complaint. He did similar work in Maryland before getting a job in Michigan working for the unnamed "victim company" in January 2015.

Hasanzadeh allegedly was privy to highly sensitive projects, such as what the court documents call a "real-time supercomputer with applications that would include aerospace applications." Even though he was not allowed to take work home or share it over his personal email account, he allegedly started sending his brother confidential documents just six days into his employment.

Federal officials say his brother, Sina, worked at multiple companies linked to Iran's military programs, including one that "contributes to Iran's proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities."

The hundreds of files that Hasanzadeh allegedly transferred to his brother included sensitive information about the company's products, including trade secrets. Among them was a prototype for a part of one of the company's "important products," the complaint states.

It's unclear what products, exactly, were detailed in the data Hasanzadeh sent or how that information might be useful to Iranian entities.

"We don't have any concerns that there is a current threat to the safety of the United States," FBI special agent Mara Schneider told The Detroit News.

While the victim company is not named in the complaint, Hasanzadeh's LinkedIn profile says he was a senior firmware engineer at a Detroit-area company during the time he was allegedly stealing data and sending it to Iran. That company says it "delivers test equipment, systems and services to the transportation & energy markets." Hasanzadeh states that during the relevant time, one of the projects he worked on was for Japan's aerospace and space agency. The company on the LinkedIn profile did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment.

Hasanzadeh is also accused of fraud regarding information that he provided on U.S. visa and immigration forms. He allegedly stated on a 2010 application that he had served in the Iranian military, but he later denied any military service on multiple later forms and in an interview.

The U.S. government has warned that China, Russia and Iran are actively trying to carry out economic espionage against the U.S., particularly through cyberattacks. "China, Russia, and Iran stand out as three of the most capable and active cyber actors tied to economic espionage and potential theft of proprietary information," according to a 2018 report from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.

For example, the report stated that an Iranian hacker group called Rocket Kitten "consistently targets U.S. defense firms, likely enabling Tehran to improve its already robust missile and space programs with proprietary and sensitive U.S. military technology."

Earlier this week, Iran took another significant step in defiance of the landmark international nuclear pact since the U.S. pulled out of it last year. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced that the government would begin enriching uranium by infusing gas into centrifuges at a formerly secret nuclear facility built into a mountain.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.