SAN FRANCISCO — A Hillsborough couple has pleaded guilty in connection with a scheme to illegally export night vision rifle scope parts to Russia, federal authorities said.
Naum Morgovsky, 69, and Irina Morgovsky, 66, purchased the components, which included image intensifier tubes and lenses, through their U.S.-based company Hitek International. They then shipped them to their night vision manufacturing company in Moscow, according to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
The Arms Export Control Act of 1976 prohibits the export of such items without a permit from the federal government.
“Protecting sensitive technology from unlawful export is crucial to our national security, especially when that technology has military uses,” Acting U.S. Attorney Alex Tse said in a statement.
There is growing concern about the military-grade night vision gear that is widely available to civilians, according to a 2017 investigation by the Huffington Post. If exported, that gear could give adversaries similar night vision capabilities to those of the American military, said Adam Routh of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives does not regulate the sale or use of night vision equipment. It is perfectly legal and available to buy online — but not to export. Experts fear it could fall into the hands of terrorists or rogue states.
Naum Morgovsky also pleaded guilty to two other counts of laundering a total of $223,000 in profits — received in exchange for the components — through a bank account using the stolen identity of a dead person, according to the indictment.
The guilty pleas came during jury selection for a trial that was scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Each count carries a possible maximum sentence of 20 years.