US Government Controls IT  Exports to the Middle East [Archives:2000/16/Science & Technology]

April 17 2000

Bassam Al-Sabri, 
Yemen Times 
Many, if not all, of us may, perhaps, not be aware of the fact that the US government controls IT exports to the Middle East. Although not widely recognized or publicly declared, this remains an undeniable fact. The US export controls determines who shall receive US origin technology products and who shall not. It presides over how quick we take delivery of IT products- or whether we shall receive them at all? 
In 1996, the Bureau of Exports Administration (BXA) partitioned the world into several tiers (I, II, III and IV) depending on US national security and foreign policy interests. These divisions represent the level of potential threat that a country, government or even an individual poses on the US national security. Accordingly, it determines the technical level of computer systems these end-users could receive without having to obtain an export license. Nearly all Middle East countries in addition to the former Soviet Union, China, India and Pakistan fall in the tier III division. Unfortunate countries such as Syria, Iraq, Iran and Libya belong to tier IV. 
According to this classification, tier III members cannot purchase computer systems that can perform more than 2000 million theoretical operations per second (MTOPS). Beyond that, it is up to the BXA to determine their liability to receive such high-tech IT products. It entirely depends on who you are: a government, commercial or and individual IT buyer (end-user). Yet, in all cases, the BXA ought to be sure that you would not employ whatsoever IT product you purchase for carrying out any military or weapons related research. Commercial end-users who intend to purchase an IT product that can exceed 2000 MTOPS should obtain a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) certificate. Even now, the purchased IT product cannot exceed 12,300 MTOPS (previously 7000 MTOPS) or otherwise they should acquire an Individual Valuation License (IVL). 
In acquiring an NDAA, an application form (available at the BXA official Web site is forwarded to the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Energy and State plus the Director of Arms Control and Disarmament (the process consumes about 10 to 15 days). Besides, you should adhere to 11 conditions one of which is a promise not to re-export the purchased IT product. Furthermore, in cases of purchasing big American brands such as IBM, Compaq and Dell, the respective Middle East Offices of these brands assign specific personnel to carry out a preliminary assessment on application forms. Afterwards, they are presented before the BXA, and then routed through the above mentioned offices. If, for any reason, one of the government offices raised a particular objection on the transaction, the request will be immediately denied and a license application would be necessitated. 
Obtaining an IVL is harder and requires a very time-consuming process (5 to 6 months on average). As the term IVL is implies, applications for obtaining this license are studied very meticulously. In this case, there are 36 conditions that IT buyers should abide by compared to 11 conditions in the case of an NDAA certificate. Those conditions are included in what is called “Supplement 3 to Part 742 of the Export Administration Regulations” which is also available at the same previously stated Web site as stated above. They include loads of details howsoever small on varied subjects such as the nationalities of personnel who should not have access to the product, running modifications that could further enhance the performance of the device, re-export and security measures taken to protect the product against stealing. 
The measures taken in cases of government end-users are not quite the same because they need not obtain an NDAA certificate. Government IT buyers are allowed to purchase computer systems that could perform 6500 MTOPS without having to acquire an IVL or any other certificate. Past this level, government end-users are required to go for an IVL. However, defining the term “government end-user” is still a matter of dispute since governments are always related to military in one way or another. Moreover, the fact that the BXA along with 14 other government agencies are involved in the process of dominating the exports rules makes it hard to put standard measures in cases of government end-users. 
Last, despite all these restrictions from the BXA, it still cannot guarantee that none of the members of the “Denied Persons List” would receive one of its controlled IT products; the reason is quite simple. The broad availability of computer components in gray markets today makes it very simple for a local assembler in a tier III member country to build a computer system that could exceed 2000 MTOPS. In fact, it is simpler, cheaper and easier to maintain than a US origin computer and, on top of that all, the local assembler could not possibly be penalized by the BXA given that its authority is restricted to the US origin manufacturers.