Business or Treason? Defense Contractor Shares Secrets With China, Other Nations

The leading provider of night vision equipment to the U.S. military has admitted that it illegally sent classified information about the technology overseas, and will pay a $100 million penalty for its actions.

The fine, one of the largest ever, comes as ITT Corp. acknowledged that it had shared its technology with China, Singapore, the United Kingdom and other countries without permission from the U.S. government. The government says ITT is now the first major defense contractor convicted of a violation of the Arms Export Control Act.

According to the company's Web site, "ITT Industries produces the most advanced night vision equipment for military, law enforcement and recreational applications, enabling users to see under the darkest conditions and operate at night."

"The sensitive night vision systems produced by ITT Corp. are critical to U.S. war-fighting capability and are sought by our enemies and allies alike," Assistant Attorney General Kenneth L. Wainstein said in a statement.

"ITT's exportation of this sensitive technology to China and other nations jeopardized our national security and the safety of our military men and women on the battlefield," Wainstein said.

The government has also accused ITT of omitting key facts from reports required by the government, leaving the U.S. State Department with misleading information.

According to one official, ITT had received government contracts to develop night vision technologies but decided it would try to minimize costs. The company allegedly sent classified information to companies and firms in foreign countries, tasking them with help in the research and development of the night vision technology.

"Placing profits ahead of the security of our nation is simply not acceptable for any corporation," said Julie Myers, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "Export violations that compromise our technology pose a potentially deadly threat to our military and our nation."

Night vision is what gives U.S. forces around the world the advantage in battle from soldier to aircraft. Another concern for the U.S. government is China's development of countermeasures to blind and reduce the effectiveness of the technology.

ITT has the opportunity to reduce some of the monetary penalties by investing $50 million in "the acceleration, development and fielding of the most advanced night vision technology so that the members of the U.S. Armed Forces can maintain their battlefield advantage of having the most capable night vision equipment in the world, " the statement said.

The Defense Criminal Investigative Service took the lead in the investigation and worked with the FBI and immigration agency on the case.

The U.S. attorney's office in Roanoke, Va., has also participated in the investigation, and will prosecute the case, as ITT's night vision office is located in that city.