Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen Delivers Remarks at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you everyone for being here this morning. And thank you to my friend, Dan Benjamin and the American Academy in Berlin, as well as our colleagues here in the embassy, for joining with us to host this important conversation.
I am Matt Olsen, and I serve as the Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the United States Department of Justice. I am here today having spent this past week in Ukraine. I left Kyiv in genuine awe of the courage and unflinching resolve of the Ukrainian people in the face of Russia’s war of aggression.
I am grateful to conclude this week here in Berlin. I have travelled to quite a few countries to meet with our foreign government partners since I began this job two years ago, but I haven’t been anywhere more than once – except for Germany. This is, in fact, my third time here in my capacity as Assistant Attorney General. Just as often, I have met with German officials at our office at Main Justice in Washington, D.C. Fundamentally, these visits by both sides reflect the depth and importance of the law enforcement and intelligence partnerships between the United States and Germany and our shared allies.
The strength of that partnership is as important today as ever before. Our nations face an increasingly complex national security threat environment. We confront rising threats from domestic violent extremism. This includes anti-government extremists and racially motivated white supremacists. Meanwhile, the dangers of international terrorism persist. Hamas’s recent attack in Israel is a stark reminder of this peril.
Authoritarian regimes are determined to evade global sanctions and develop military capabilities and weapons programs that threaten the international peace and security. These regimes often work to silence dissent and oppress civilian populations in their own countries. What is more, they export repression beyond their borders to our shores, violating our sovereignty and our freedoms.
Across this ever-evolving threat landscape, we see the persistent and determined efforts of adversaries to unlawfully acquire advanced and sensitive technology from the United States, from Germany, and from our allies. This is what I want to discuss with you today.
Russia, China, Iran and North Korea seek to obtain emerging technologies in critical areas such as semiconductors, quantum, hypersonics, advanced computing, and biosciences. These innovations bring the promise of improving lives around the world, but disruptive technologies pose real dangers in the hands of our adversaries.
These are the tools that can enhance the military capabilities of hostile countries and provide them strategic advantage. Russia wants new technology to improve its cruise missile communication systems and electronic weapons systems to support its unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine. Iran has developed missiles, unmanned aerial systems, and related technologies and shares these tools with rogue nation-states, terrorist groups, and militant proxies. This behavior threatens peace and stability in the Middle East, in Europe and beyond.
In the past few months, North Korea has discussed trading arms to Russia in exchange for sensitive military technologies like satellite technology and jet fighters. Further, Chinese military research groups focused on hypersonic technologies and missile programs have acquired advanced U.S. software products, often through Chinese firms acting as intermediaries.
The dangers are not limited to military applications. In the hands of repressive governments, many of these dual- or multi-use technologies – things like artificial intelligence, facial recognition, and advanced biotechnologies – can be used to conduct surveillance of civilian populations, to stifle dissent, and to enable other human rights abuses.
Authoritarian regimes are learning from one another and helping each other. Just last spring, press reports indicated that the Russian government was providing Iran with technology to suppress protests – tools like surveillance and censorship software, eavesdropping devices, and photographic equipment – in exchange for Iranian drone technology to use against Ukraine.
The bottom line is that these disruptive technologies have the potential to reshape the balance of power between free nations and authoritarian regimes. That danger demands a response.
That is why the Department of Justice had joined with the Commerce Department to set up the Disruptive Technology Strike Force, an interagency enforcement effort that Commerce Assistant Secretary Matt Axelrod and I lead to prevent this kind of dangerous and illicit tech transfer. In announcing the creation of the Strike Force in February, Deputy Attorney General Monaco underscored the Justice Department’s commitment to deploying all its tools against those who seek to exploit technology to undermine our national security.
Since February, the Strike Force has been hard at work doing exactly that. For example, we have charged a Chinese national with attempting to sell to Iran materials used to produce weapons, in violation of sanctions laws. The defendant in that case allegedly tried to arrange the sale using Chinese companies that are under U.S. sanctions for supporting Iran's ballistic missile program.
In another two cases, we charged former software engineers for stealing source code from U.S. tech companies in order to market it to Chinese competitors. The information at issue included trade secrets underpinning cutting-edge AI and technology used for nuclear submarines and military aircraft.
As the cases I have mentioned illustrate, we face threats from multiple countries of concern. China, especially, is often at the center of efforts to facilitate the theft of trade secrets and sensitive technologies for other countries.
But the starkest illustrations of the consequences of the illegal transfer of sensitive technologies can be found on the battlefield in Ukraine.
My trip to Kyiv this week builds on the prior visits of the Attorney General to Ukraine, where he has established a close partnership with the Ukrainian Prosecutor General and made a commitment for our two countries to work together. I met with counterparts in the Ukrainian government to discuss how we can prevent Russia from obtaining U.S. and European-manufactured technology.
Many of you likely have seen public media reports about parts from U.S. and European manufacturers being found in Russia weapons and equipment seized in Ukraine. It is infuriating to see U.S.-made parts enabling the instruments of death and destruction that Russia is using against the Ukrainian people.
While on the ground in Kyiv, I toured a forensic center where the government stores weapons recovered from the frontlines, like ballistic missiles, air-guided missiles and UAVs. The recovered items I saw there included computer circuits in cruise missiles, electronic components from radar systems used to identify and attack targets, and a downed Shahed 136 “suicide” drone.
The Shahed drone is a type of self-destructing Iranian UAV that Russia has used to conduct hundreds of lethal attacks against military and civilian targets in Ukraine. Over the past year, Iran has transferred hundreds of Shahed- and Mohajer- series UAVs to Russia, which Moscow then uses to strike Ukrainian critical infrastructure. What’s more, Iran is also providing production technology, manufacturing plans, and personnel training to help Russia build a facility to produce attack drones on a mass scale. The Iranian-origin drones recovered in Ukraine include many components produced by third-country suppliers, demonstrating the extent to which Iran relies on foreign procurement to obtain items it cannot produce domestically.
The forensics examiners who we met in Ukraine risk their lives to retrieve downed UAVs and electronic components from the front lines of battle. They then work to trace the supply chains to understand where component parts originate. Far too often, the answer is the United States or a European ally. That U.S. or European components appear in weapons used by Russia in its war of aggression against Ukraine is something that neither the United States nor our European partners can abide.
Like Iran, Russia has long depended on foreign sources to supply it with microelectronics and other component parts that allow its weaponry to function. The Kremlin is struggling to supply its military, as Ukraine’s heroic resistance depletes it forces and as the United States and allies have tightened controls over the technology it needs. Russia has been forced to resort to elaborate covert procurement networks and transshipment points in efforts to circumvent sanctions and export control laws.
Let me give a concrete example of the heightened export controls restricting Russia’s access to the things it needs to sustain its war in Ukraine. Following the invasion, the U.S. Commerce Department, together with partners in the European Union, Japan, and the United Kingdom, developed a list of “common high priority items” that Russia seeks to procure for its weapons program. These include items that are critical to advanced precision-guided weapons systems that Russia is not able to produce domestically. With only limited manufacturers globally, these are the kinds of items we know the Kremlin will prioritize to illegally divert to Russia.
It is the equipment Russia needs and either cannot make or cannot make enough of. So, they try to circumvent restrictions by using third-party intermediaries and transshipment points to disguise the transfer of prohibited items and to hide the fact that the material is destined for Russian end users.
There is a clear imperative that we step up enforcement and work together to target and dismantle these illicit networks.
One of our most effective enforcement tools, of course, is criminal prosecutions. By arresting those who violate sanctions and export laws, we both incapacitate Russian military supply channels and make clear that we will do everything in our power to find and hold accountable the people facilitating these networks.
Our criminal investigations are already producing results. In May, for example, we arrested a Greek national for allegedly acquiring export-controlled technologies for Russia and serving as a procurement agent for its intelligence services. The same day, we announced the arrests of two Russian nationals in the United States for an alleged procurement scheme involving Russian commercial airlines.
We have also brought cases against Russian procurement networks using transshipment points around the world – in Cyprus, Latvia and Hong Kong – to obtain technology like rifle scopes and thermal optics.
Just this week, while I was on the ground in Kyiv, we announced two more cases against individuals allegedly sending sensitive American technology to Russia. These cases were brought in partnership with Justice Department’s Task Force KleptoCapture.
In New York City, we charged a Russian national living in Brooklyn and two Russian nationals in Canada for conspiring to send millions of dollars’ worth of electronic components to companies in the Russian technology and defense sectors.
These defendants, who were arrested on Tuesday in the United States, allegedly conspired to send controlled items to Russian procurement firms based in Moscow by routing them through intermediary companies in other countries. Some of the items the defendants illegally export are identical – the same make, model, and parts numbers – to electronic components found in Russian weapons platforms and signals intelligence equipment that have been seized in Ukraine. These include military helicopters, counter missile systems, battle tanks, and drones.
In a second case, on Tuesday, we charged another Brooklyn-based resident with establishing a U.S. company to send American technology to a Russian company that produces UAVs that Russia is using to target and kill Ukrainians.
I’ll note that this past August, the German government brought its own charges against a Russian-German dual citizen who violated this country’s export laws by sending to Russia electronic components used in UAV drones. In that case, and in the two cases we announced in New York this week, Russia was using the technology at issue in the very same Orlan-10 UAVs.
This striking example of overlapping technology underscores the global scale of the problem. As does the fact that in all of these cases the defendants were routing items through intermediary countries. The reality is that, because this technology is being routed throughout the world, we all must do our part to cut off the supply lines supporting the Russian military.
Allies around the world are rising to meet the moment. Earlier this week, a Dutch court sentenced a Russian businessman to prison for sending microchips to Russian defense companies using front companies in the Maldives. The European Union and United Kingdom have sanctioned multiple Iranian individuals and entities involved in that country’s supply of UAVs to Russia.
In all of these cases, international cooperation is critical. For example, the United States has received assistance from our international partners, including authorities in Germany, Italy, France, Estonia, and Cyprus, to track down perpetrators and make arrests.
This important work is only the beginning. We must approach this problem in partnership, bringing the full authorities of our respective nations to bear and lending mutual assistance to each other’s efforts. We must also join with private industry. Corporations are on the front lines, leveraging greater visibility into where violations are occurring and making business decisions that can be just as impactful as our law enforcement actions.
We cannot do it alone. But together we can make real progress in dismantling, piece by piece, the illegal networks that fuel Russia’s war machine, destroy countless innocent lives, and threaten our global security.
Countering Nation-State Threats
Updated November 6, 2023