A dual Iranian-US citizen was arrested in New Jersey last Thursday for attempting to smuggle to Iran the blueprints related to the F-35 joint strike fighter plane, according to US prosecutors.
Mozaffar Khazaee, 59, an engineer at Connecticut-based defense contractor Pratt & Whitney, reportedly arranged in November for a shipping company to transport 44 boxes labeled “household goods” to his brother-in-law in Hamadan, Iran, via Long Beach, California.
He was arrested at Newark Liberty International Airport as he was embarking on a trip to Tehran through Frankfurt, Germany.
The F-35, the Pentagon’s most advanced fighter jet to date, is slated to replace or complement the existing air fleet in the US and several other countries, including Israel.
According to an affidavit filed by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations special agent, Khazaee arranged to transfer boxes that contained “sensitive technical manuals, specification sheets, and other proprietary material” on the F-35, especially its engines.
They were discovered in November by customs officers, who searched boxes described by the shipping company as containing “books and college-related items, two suitcases, a vacuum cleaner and some other items.”
Credit card bills and medicine bottles also in the shipment helped authorities identify and track down Khazaee, as did his fingerprints on the packages.
Khazaee, who became a naturalized citizen in 1991, was laid off in August during widespread cuts at Pratt & Whitney. According to the affidavit, he has visited Iran five times in the past seven years.
The F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, with an estimated cost of nearly $400 billion. The program aims to replace a wide range of existing aircraft for the US and several partner countries, but has experienced significant delays and cost overruns.
The Israeli army has started preparations to receive the stealth fighter in 2017 — readying structures and runways, and training technical crews and pilots.
The F-35 fighter, at roughly $150 million per unit, plays a central role in Israel’s defense budget, stretched thin by recent cuts. Three squadrons, which the IDF has indicated it may seek, along with all of the additional costs of outfitting and maintaining the new plane, might cost $15 billion.
Khazaee is accused of the interstate transportation of stolen goods worth over $5,000, a crime which carries a fine or 10 year sentence with it.