The building fracas over deemed exports (for the uninitiated, that's technology transfer to foreign nationals within US borders) is shaping up to be one of those rare export control issues that manages the leap over from trade journals and law firm memos to more mainstream media coverage.
Case in the point is yesterday's story by Cristi Hegranes of SF Weekly, a Bay Area alternative newsweekly. The article is largely drawn around 19-year-old Indian and Berkeley undergrad Arjun Gupta, a highly sympathetic fellow who not only looks and dresses like a cast member on the Indian version of The O.C., but is also prone to making unambiguously pro-American statements like "I love it here".
Hegranes' piece is as comprehensive as anything I've read in the mass media on the topic and certainly more accessible. That's no small feat considering the technical and arcane subject matter. Not to take anything away from Hegranes or SF Weekly, but you have to wonder why it's left to a small, free Left Coast paper to cover an issue of national importance like this.
That said, it's not accurate in every detail. Some of the errors are fairly minor -- a supposed $1 application fee for deemed export licenses applications (in fact they're free), a stray reference to the State Department is odd since the article otherwise rightly focuses on Commerce jurisdiction, and, as far as I know, corn doesn't require an export license (though given the perverse state of agricultural subsidies and quotas it wouldn't entirely surprise me.) And it was National Security Decision Directive No. 189 which codified the fundamental research exemption, not NSDD 889.
There's also an unexplained and unsourced estimate that deemed export license applications will jump from the current figure of around 1,000 a year to 350,000. I don't doubt that we would see a substantial increase in applications, but will there really be as many in a day under the new rules then were previously submitted in an entire year? Doubtful.
But if that's an example of overselling the consequences, there's a more important case where the article undersells the impact. Someone who read Hegranes' story would walk away with the impression that the proposal would only affect foreign nationals from the handful of countries listed in the story -- China, Cuba, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, and Syria. These twelve states are repeatedly grouped together as "countries of concern":
Meanwhile, foreign students whose home countries are not considered to be "of concern" can study dual-use technology without the bureaucracy and uncertainty surrounding the export licensing process.
Inherent in the new rules is a discriminatory contradiction: Students from India, which has cordial relations with the U.S., will need licenses to study, but students from Saudi Arabia -- home country for most of the participants in the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, and much of the financing and ideology behind Islamist terrorism -- will not.
It's true that deemed export controls are discriminatory on the basis of nationality. This is inherent since they are derived from an export control system which continues to distinguish between countries of destination based on a number of factors (support for terrorism, respect for human rights, proliferation activities, foreign policy concerns, etc.).
But this rule could potentially affect any foreigner in the US who studies, researches, or works with controlled technologies. Certainly the bulk of applications today and, in all probability, under this proposal would be for folks from one of the countries listed above (Chinese and Russian nationals alone account for about 70 percent of applications). Still the export of some especially sensitive technologies requires a license to even very close US allies and, therefore, also for the release of the same technology to nationals of these countries in the US. In this respect, the SF Weekly story is misleading.
Still it's hard not to forgive and forget when Hegranes trots out everyone's favorite isolationist Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) (who incidentally represents the real O.C.) with a typically enlightened quotation with which readers of this blog will already be familiar.
Elsewhere in the deemed export universe, there's this play-it-straight story from the Times of India the most interesting part of which is its witty headline -- "Under scanner: Indian scientists EARmarked for restrictions by US".
Plus, Doug Jacobson says Commerce is extending the deadline for comments on their proposal by a month.