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US tech used in Russian weapons, despite export controls

U.S. export controls aren't keeping technology produced by Intel, AMD, Analog Devices and Texas Instruments from ending up in weapons systems used in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Semiconductors and other technologies produced by Intel, AMD, Analog Devices and Texas Instruments were discovered in weapons used by the Russian military in its war against Ukraine, despite U.S. export controls and sanctions controlling foreign adversaries' purchase of those technologies.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the evidence of U.S. technologies in Russian weapons is a "powerful indictment of our export control and sanction system." Blumenthal spoke during a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Tuesday. While Blumenthal said the subcommittee has yet to conclude whether the companies have violated U.S. law, it plans to question how those technologies ended up in Russian weapons systems.

Our export control regime is lethally ineffective, and something has to be done.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal

"The simple truth is that a vast number of U.S. parts and components are found in Russian weapons recovered on the battlefield," he said. "Our export control regime is lethally ineffective, and something has to be done."

President Joe Biden first implemented export controls on advanced technologies in 2022, aiming to stop U.S. technology from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries, including Russia and China. Witnesses during the subcommittee hearing outlined how Russia relies on third-party intermediaries in countries bordering Russia to obtain U.S. technology.

Greater cooperation between governments and the private sector needs to be fostered to address loopholes in the supply chain that allow Russia and China to obtain U.S. advanced technology such as semiconductors, said Damien Spleeters, deputy director of operations at Conflict Armament Research (CAR) and a witness during the hearing.

U.S. companies should pay attention to this issue because Spleeters said his organization has identified technology components in Russian weapons produced after U.S. sanctions and export controls went into effect in 2022, meaning the Russian government didn't stockpile the technology beforehand.

"That should be a concern for manufacturers," he said during the hearing.

Addressing Russia's use of U.S. tech means government-private sector cooperation

Researchers collected Russian weapons from battlefields in the Russia-Ukraine war to determine what technology the country used to manufacture its weapons. James Byrne, director of the open source intelligence and analysis research group at the Royal United Services Institute and a witness during the hearing, described this as unprecedented access to Russian weaponry.

"We got to look inside of them," Byrne said. "What was shocking was that all of these systems that we saw were built with our technology." The technology originated not only from the U.S., but also from the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany and various other Western nations, he said.

Byrne said despite Russian rhetoric that the government independently sourced technologies such as semiconductors, an inspection of Russian weapons proved otherwise. Indeed, he said modern weapons systems cannot function without advanced technologies such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence produced by companies in the U.S. and its strategic allies.

"They rely on our technology," Byrne said. "It is not just Russian weapons systems, it's Iranian platforms, it's very recently North Korean platforms. It is technology that fits into those systems that the Russians cannot simply replace. They cannot easily go to other manufacturers of these components because our countries are the most sophisticated manufacturers of these things."

Byrne said sanctions and export controls can be difficult to enforce, but countries including the U.S., the U.K., South Korea and Japan should make every effort to address the issue.

"If we can stop them as best we can, we help the Ukrainians, and we help ourselves from fighting an adversary with our technology," he said.

More effective export controls rely on private sector involvement, said Elina Ribakova, director of the international affairs program and vice president for foreign policy at the Kyiv School of Economics and a witness during the hearing. Control of the supply chain for such technology starts at the point of production and initial sale, she said.

In addition, closing loopholes in export controls and sanctions could critically affect Russia's, Iran's and North Korea's ability to produce weapons, CAR's Spleeters said. Alerting manufacturers when it has been discovered that their products are being diverted and used in Russian weapons is a critical step to addressing the problem, he said.

For companies that have been notified that their products are being used in foreign adversaries' weapons systems, Byrne said the work begins now to step up and assess the supply chain.

"If I were them, I'd be looking at my internal compliance departments, and I would be thinking, 'How far can I trace them? What can we do to improve our visibility in our supply chain?'" Byrne said.

Makenzie Holland is a senior news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget Editorial, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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