A defense contractor who holds both U.S. and Iranian passports has been caught allegedly trying to smuggle secret documents related to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program into Iran.
Mozaffar Khazaee is a dual citizen of both Iran and the U.S. who worked for a major American defense contractor. He allegedly tried to ship 44 boxes full of "sensitive technical manuals, specification sheets, and other proprietary material" to Iran, reports ABC News, citing an affidavit filed by a special agent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations division.
Khazaee reportedly was trying to fly to Iran by way of Germany when he was arrested last week. Customs officials in November inspected a shipment Khazaee had sent from Connecticut to California that he documented as containing books, suitcases and other items, but the boxes actually contained reams of documents housed in binders and manuals related to the the development of the highly advanced Joint Strike Fighter aircraft development program. A collection of partner nations, including the U.K., Italy and Canada, have invested billions in the program and others, such as Israel and Japan, have expressed interest in purchasing variants of the F-35.
Court documents indicate Khazaee previously worked for an unnamed Connecticut-based defense contractor responsible for developing the engine for the F-22 Raptor. ABC confirmed that Khazaee worked previously for Pratt & Whitney, which makes that engine.
Khazaee has traveled to Iran at least five times over the last seven years, according to the court documents. He is accused of interstate transportation of stolen property worth $5,000 or more and could spend as much as 10 years in prison, ABC says.
The F-35 program is considered the most expensive program in the history of the military. Critics pin massive cost overruns and delays on the military's desire to create a single airplane for the starkly different needs of the three services that use fixed-wing jets: The Navy requires a jet strong enough to land on a carrier, the Marine Corps needs a plane heavy enough to support a second engine for vertical landings and the Air Force needs a plane light enough to take on maximum fuel for long-range sorties.
The entire F-35 program, developed by Lockheed Martin Corp., could cost as much as $1.5 trillion, according to some estimates.
Supporters of the F-35 say the military needs a "fifth-generation fighter" to keep up with competing programs in Russia and China. Much of the program's investment goes into an integrated computer system that can relay information from the jet to other airplanes, ships and troops on the ground.
Iran has dedicated significant resources to further developing its air force capabilities. The country claimed to have deployed surveillance drones to snoop on Israeli military bases in October 2012.
In 2011, Iran retrieved a CIA-run RQ-170 Sentinel drone that landed inside the country. The U.S. says the drone crashed, while the Iranian government claims it took over remote control of the drone and guided it to landing. Subsequent pictures of the Sentinel released by Iran included banners that obscured the drone's landing gear.
Iran has claimed it was able to reverse-engineer the drone, though an American engineering expert says that is impossible.
In March 2013, an Iranian F-4 Vietnam-era fighter jet began following an American MQ-1 Predator drone conducting surveillance over international waters off the coast of Iran. A Pentagon spokesman says the drone was unarmed and escorted by two fighter jets. The F-4 ceased pursuit after a "verbal warning."