By: Danielle McClellan
Syed Vaqar Ashraf (71) of Lahore, Pakistan (also known as Vaqar A. Jaffrey) was sentenced to 33 months in prison after being extradited from Belgium on July 31, 2015. According to court documents, in June 2012 Ashraf began asking a Tucson-based company, who shall remain nameless, for price quotes for unmanned aerial vehicles (drones). The company specializes in the design, development, and manufacturing of drones for the US military. The company immediately tipped off Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) agents about Ashraf’s requests. HSI quickly assigned special agents to work undercover as employees of the Tucson-based company and they began dialoging with Ashraf directly.
From June 2012 to August 2014, Ashraf negotiated with special agents. He represented himself as the head of I&E International, based in Lahore, Pakistan. Most of the correspondence was done via email where he agreed to purchase 18 gyroscopes that were intended to help medium-sized drones fly longer distances as well as 10 optical receiver modules and laser diodes intended to be installed in the aircraft for approximately $440,000.
In September 2013, HSI agents met with Ashraf in Vienna, Austria to work out details regarding the sale. Ashraf explained during the meeting that Pakistan’s nuclear program had been developed using technology exported from the west without a license. This led the agents to believe that Ashraf was working for Pakistan’s Advanced Engineering Research Organization and the intended use for the electronics was for the Pakistani military UAV program.
From January to March 2014 Ashraf asked agents for suggestions to get around the US export controls after agents requested a license from the Commerce Department and were told that the items would require a special license because the optical receive modules could be used in “activities related to nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons or missile delivery systems.” Ashraf asked if there were any alternative descriptions that would appear to cover the items on documents, but would clear arms control hurdles from State and Commerce departments. Secret agents offered Ashraf with a few different descriptions and asked him if the customer was aware that transaction was “being done without a license.” Ashraf told the agents that they (customer) were “absolutely aware of everything.” Later in an email, Ashraf wrote, “He (customer) is well aware that he cannot get these gyros in a normal way; he’s well aware of that.” The ultimate plan was to transship all of the items; they would be shipped to Pakistan through Belgium.
HIS agents met with Ashraf three more times in face-to-face meetings, including one in the US where they agreed on a series of wire transfers, including one for $67,000. On August 26, 2014 agents set up a final meeting with Ashraf in Belgium to deliver some of the technology. Before the meeting began Belgian police showed up and arrested Ashraf. A little less than a year later Ashraf was extradited to the US to face trial on charges of conspiracy to export defense controlled items without a license which he later pled guilty to.