Iran scientist acquitted in US trade secrets case deported

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Updated 02 June 2020

Iran scientist acquitted in US trade secrets case deported

  • Asghari had been indicted in April 2016
  • He was accused of trying to steal secret research from Case Western Reserve University

TEHRAN: An Iranian scientist imprisoned in the US and acquitted in a federal trade secrets case is on his way back to Iran after being deported, the country’s foreign minister said Tuesday.
Sirous Asgari was in the air on a flight back to Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an Instagram post.
“Congratulations to his wife and his esteemed family,” Zarif wrote.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency later reported the news, citing Zarif.
Asgari, a professor at Iran’s Sharif University of Technology, had been indicted in April 2016, accused by federal prosecutors of trying to steal secret research from Case Western Reserve University. The Cleveland school had been working on a project for the US Navy Office of Naval Research to create and produce anti-corrosive stainless steel.
Asgari ultimately was acquitted in November after US District Judge James Gwin tossed out the case by the prosecutors.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy Homeland Security secretary, earlier told The Associated Press that the DHS had started to try to deport Asgari on Dec. 12 following his acquittal. However, he said, Iran refused to recognize him as legitimately Iranian and provide him with a valid passport until late February.
Once Asgari received the passport, DHS made several attempts to fly him back to Iran, purchasing tickets for flights on March 10, March 18, March 23, April 1 and May 1, according to Cuccinelli. Each of those flights was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Asgari’s supporters told The Guardian newspaper in April he had contracted the coronavirus while imprisoned. He had been held at Louisiana’s Winn Correctional Center by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement before his deportation, they said.
Iran’s deputy education minister, Hossein Salar Amoli, recently said Asgari had recovered from the virus and would be able to travel, IRNA reported.
Iranian officials had associated Asgari’s release with US prisoners held in Iran potentially being freed, something Cuccinelli strongly disputed. Iranian officials in recent days had been saying they believed Asgari soon would return to Iran.
Among the US citizens held in Iran is US Navy veteran Michael White, of Imperial Beach, California. White was detained in July 2018 while visiting a girlfriend in Iran. He was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online.
He was released from prison in March on a medical furlough that required him to remain in the country in the care of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents America’s interests in Iran. White is among tens of thousands of prisoners granted medical furloughs by Iran, which was one of the first countries to be hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus.
In December, Iran released a Princeton University scholar held for three years on widely disputed espionage charges in exchange for the release of a detained Iranian scientist.
In March, the family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran 13 years ago on an unauthorized CIA mission, said they had been informed by US officials that they had determined that Levinson was probably dead. They have not elaborated on how they made that determination.
Westerners and Iranian dual nationals with ties to the West often find themselves tried and convicted in closed-door trials in Iran, only later to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
The release comes as the US under President Donald Trump continues a maximum-pressure campaign targeting Iran after unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018. In the time since, the two countries have seen a series of escalating incidents, including the US drone strike killing an Iranian general in Baghdad and an Iranian ballistic missile attack targeting American troops in Iraq.


US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

Updated 12 August 2020

US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

  • Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast
  • The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years

WASHINGTON: About four years before the Beirut port explosion that killed dozens of people and injured thousands, a US government contractor expressed concern to a Lebanese port official about unsafe storage there of the volatile chemicals that fueled last week’s devastating blast, American officials said Tuesday.
There is no indication the contractor communicated his concerns to anyone in the US government.
His assessment was noted briefly in a four-page State Department cable first reported by The New York Times.
The cable, labeled sensitive but unclassified, dealt largely with the Lebanese responses to the blast and the origins and disposition of the ammonium nitrate, which ignited to create an enormous explosion. But it also noted that after the Aug. 4 explosion, a person who had advised the Lebanese navy under a US Army contract from 2013 to 2016 told the State Department that he had “conducted a port facility inspection on security measures during which he reported to port officials on the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate.”
Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast, officials said.
The contractor, who was not identified by name and is now a State Department employee based in Ukraine, was in Lebanon to provide instruction to members of the Lebanese navy. While there, he made a brief, impromptu inspection of physical security at the facility in 2015 or 2016 at the request of a port official, US officials said. The contractor was not identified.
The contractor, who has a background in port and maritime security, noted weaknesses in security camera coverage and other aspects of port management but was not assessing safety issues, according to the US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a planned public statement.
While inside the warehouse where ammonium nitrate was stored, the contractor saw problems such as poor ventilation and inadequate physical security, which he noted to the port official accompanying him, the officials said. It is unclear whether the port official reported this concern to his superiors.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials. The catastrophic explosion one week ago Tuesday killed at least 171 peoples and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.
The contractor was working for the US Army’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He provided instruction to members of the Lebanese armed forces in naval vessel traffic systems and small boat operations. His class was visiting the Beirut port as part of that instruction program when the port official asked him for the inspection, which US officials said lasted about 45 minutes.
The United States has a close security relationship with Lebanon. According to the State Department, the US government has provided Lebanon with more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since 2006. The assistance is designed to support the Lebanese armed forces’ ability to secure the country’s borders, counter internal threats, and defend national territory.
Last September a US Navy ship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, visited Beirut. It was the first time in 36 years an American warship had made a port visit there, according to the US military at the time.