U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently announced that its Homeland Security Investigations unit, working with the Office of Export Enforcement of the U.S. Department of Commerce, had busted a conspiracy to illegally export millions of dollars worth of computer equipment from the United States to Iran. Good news, right? Or is it really just more bad news because it's just the tip of an iceberg that the Feds are making a concerted effort to keep you from knowing about?
The bust was brought to my attention by Dr. Gene Nelson, an Arlington, Va.-based advocate for U.S. immigration reform. I'm on a mailing list that Nelson uses to disseminate information on immigration-related issues like H-1B visa abuse, and on Friday, April 22, Nelson sent an ICE press release about the bust to the list members. It was a lengthy release that detailed the charges against and indictment of three U.S. citizens and two companies in a conspiracy to export computer equipment to Iran via the United Arab Emirates in violation of the U.S. embargo against Iran. That seemed like a very positive development to me, so I was struck by what Nelson wrote in presenting the release:
More relevant news released on a Friday. I notice that news items like this tend to be released on Fridays.
I read that as an inference by Nelson that the Feds appeared to be trying to prevent the news from getting a lot of exposure, so I emailed him again for a clarification. Turns out I was right. His response:
I believe that it has to do with the weekly news cycle. I believe that things that may involve the government being viewed unfavorably tend to get released on Friday because they have a greater chance of being "swept under the carpet" since the weekend is coming. Today was an even better day since it is a holy day of religious significance [Good Friday], with many people being off work for half of the day.
Well, hang on. The Feds were announcing that a major interagency investigation had resulted in nailing some bad guys who were illegally shipping millions of dollars worth of computer equipment to Iran. Why on earth would that be viewed so unfavorably in the United States that the Feds would want to sweep it under the carpet? I posed the question to Nelson, and he responded:
One perspective is that this is NOT supposed to be happening because a strong government enforcement network "nips in the bud" any such schemes. I believe that this scheme is only the "tip of the iceberg." As a validation of that belief, the google query technology embargo site:gao.gov shows 207 results on 25 April 2011.
I'm still not certain what that query was supposed to demonstrate. I performed it, and the results were random references to technology and embargoes. (Cuba was front and center, as might be expected on a government site that references embargoes, but don't get me started on our inane embargo against Cuba.) In any case, let's just suppose that it demonstrated that there's a ton of conspiracies out there to illegally export U.S. technology. Are the Feds really conspiring in their own right to keep this information under wraps so that we won't know how shoddy the government enforcement network is?
It all seems like kind of a stretch to me. Not that it matters all that much, but just for the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that ICE actually issued that release on Thursday, April 21, not Friday, April 22, as Nelson had indicated. So even if ICE didn't get the release out until late in the day on Thursday, it's not like it mysteriously waited until the late afternoon of Good Friday to release it. Isn't it just as likely that Thursday was simply the day the announcement was ready for release? If the Feds had, say, purposely withheld it until Monday in the hopes of getting more widespread press coverage of their success, couldn't they have been faulted for being self-serving by sitting on news that we had a right to know about?
I have a lot of respect for Nelson and the work he does, but I can't help but be concerned that there might be a "boy who cried wolf" hazard here. If immigration reform advocates like Nelson are perceived as finding a boogeyman under every federal rock they turn over, there is a danger of a loss of credibility that could ultimately harm the immigration reform movement. Perhaps a better, more constructive message would have been a pat on the Feds' back for a job well done.