An Iranian visiting scholar at the University of Michigan is in FBI custody after being charged with stealing and sending tech secrets back to Iran.
Amin Hasanzadeh, the accused, is an electrical engineer and Iranian military veteran who worked at a company linked to the Iranian government’s Cruise Division of Air & Space Organization. Hasanzadeh is also a permanent resident of the U.S.
He is accused of sending the sensitive information to his brother who worked at a number of companies connected to Iran’s military programs, including one that “contributes to Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities.”
Hasanzadeh started working as a defense contractor in Florida in 2011 developing power electronics computer designs. He worked in a similar job in Maryland before landing a job in Michigan in January 2015.
The FBI says Hasanzadeh stole the information from the company in Michigan over the period of a year and a half and began sending sensitive information to his brother in Iran just six days into the job.
The information was covered by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) he had signed.
According to an FBI affidavit, “A senior company official advised that any unauthorized disclosure or theft of partner company documents and information protected under an NDA could be ‘catastrophic.'”
The information he stole and sent to his brother included information about the company’s products, including trade secrets, and a prototype for a part of one of the company’s “important products,” stated the FBI complaint.
“Iran certainly does have as a goal improving its military capabilities and uses espionage as a means at its disposal to acquire information and technology it would have a hard time developing indigenously,” said Eric Brewer, deputy director and fellow with the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, speaking to The Jerusalem Post.
Brewer said the theft is part of Iran’s strategy to steal trade secrets from the West to improve their military and defense systems.
Hasanzadeh is charged with interstate transportation of stolen property and fraud (for not disclosing he had been in the Iranian military).
Last week, two Iranians pleaded guilty to acting as illegal agents of the Iranian government in the U.S.
Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, 39, an Iranian with dual U.S. citizenship, and Majid Ghorbani, 60, were caught running surveillance on Jewish facilities and events in the U.S. in support of the Mujahdein-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled Iranian resistance group that advocates for the complete overthrow of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his Islamist regime.
According to an FBI affidavit, the two Iranian agents were also preparing “target packages” – i.e., attacks — on individuals who posed threats to the Iranian regime on American soil.