The Curious and Troubling Case of Mozzafar Khazaee

By Dan Cadman on January 14, 2014

The Center for Immigration Studies has published a number of articles concerning the lack of a system to weed out candidates for permanent residence who ultimately prove to be national security threats through acts of terror or spying on behalf of foreign powers. (See, for instance, "Brushbacks, Proxies, and Connecting the Dots: Our Immigration Policies Still Put Us at Risk in a Post-9/11 World", and "Upholding the Value of Our Citizenship: National Security Threats Should Be Denaturalized".)

Well, once again a naturalized citizen has been found with his hand in the defense secrets cookie jar. And once again his discovery appears to have been mere happenstance, rather than any rigor in the government's homeland and national security programs.

On January 10, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Connecticut issued a press release announcing the arrest of Mozaffar Khazaee, aka "Arash Khazaie", for attempting to steal documents and materials relating to the U.S. Air Force's F35 Joint Strike Fighter, as well as other military jet engines, which he was transshipping to Iran through fraudulent bills of lading describing the shipment as household goods. His attempt was discovered when Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers inspected the shipment.

There are many disturbing aspects to the story.

First, it is dismaying that the discovery appears to have been predicated on something like an outbound shipment check. CBP officers physically inspect something like 5 percent of cargo. The chance of evading detection greatly outweighs the chance of being caught.

Second, one has to dig a bit to find out that Khazaee (spelled as "Khazawee" in some reports) is a naturalized citizen. Instead, most of the articles caption him as a "former Connecticut resident" or a "former Manchester man". (A singular exception to this trend was CNN, which spoke factually about Mr. Khazaee's Iranian origins.) One suspects political correctness on the part of many media outlets who steadfastly refuse to see any connection between his spying activities, clearly evidencing a complete lack of attachment to the United States, and the fact that he was able to settle in the country, become a resident alien, and naturalize without ever having been detected. Why do they not question this glaring gap in our homeland security vetting system much more closely?

Third, one ponders how it is that he was able to become a defense contractor with obvious access to sensitive military programs, when a close reading of the U.S. Attorney's press release has this curious statement: "Upon further investigation, law enforcement learned that Khazee holds Iranian and U.S. citizenship and, as recently as August 2013, worked as an engineer for defense contractors, including firms that are the actual owners of the technical and proprietary documents and materials in Khazaee's shipment." It is a key requirement of naturalization that individuals renounce all other nationalities as a part of taking their oath of United States citizenship. If he did not do so, why was he working on classified defense programs? Who granted the clearances? This is particularly troubling given that the other nation in question is Iran, a designated state sponsor of terrorism, according to our own State Department.

Where is the "risk management" in any of this scenario that Department of Homeland Security officials so constantly tell us is being employed to protect us from the likes of Khazaee?

Each and every one of these cases deserves a careful post mortem. There is much to be learned in figuring out, even if it's after the fact, what signs might have given proof that Khazaee was not what he seemed. Such lessons could be applied in the future to other applicants for resident alien status or naturalization. But, it would seem that DHS is less interested in risk management than risk aversion: Stick your head in the sand and hope no one notices the egregious lapse.

Lots of troubling questions and, as usual, no answers to speak of.