Kutz held up some of the items purchased by undercover investigators, including a small device that looked like a spark plug called a triggered spark gap
. The item has medical applications and can also be used to detonate a nuclear weapon, he said.
Specifically, he was accused of exporting, without the proper license, quantities of a device known as a triggered spark gap.
citizen, and he had not violated the laws of South Africa, where selling triggered spark gaps is no crime.
"Karni was able to accomplish the export of the triggered spark gaps from the United States to Pakistan through the use of little more than a computer, a modem, and an overseas bank account."
Triggered spark gaps are unremarkable in appearance--each is a cylinder set atop a four-inch-square black box--and small enough to fit in the pocket of a raincoat.
One tentacle extended from Cape Town through a broker in Secaucus, New Jersey, to the Salem, Massachusetts, laboratories of PerkinElmer Optoelectronics, a high-technology firm that is one of the world's few manufacturers of triggered spark gaps. The other tentacle extended from Cape Town through Dubai to Islamabad, into the recesses of one of the world's most dangerous black markets, the international traffic in "dual-use" nuclear technology.
Dual-use items are those, like triggered spark gaps, that are under export restrictions because they have both peaceful and weapons applications.
Triggered spark gaps can't survive a nuclear blast, but when installed in lithotripters, they can fire hundreds of thousands of times, so the demand for new ones is not great.
Over the course of this email exchange, Khan specifically requested that Karni obtain triggered spark gaps
for a "genuinely medical requirement." An initial shipment of 66 disabled triggered spark gaps
reached Islamabad on October 21, 2003, via DHL.
He was charged in federal court in Washington DC under the Export Administration Act with supplying Pakistan with US-manufactured high-speed electrical switches known as triggered spark gaps, the size of a soft-drink can and shaped like a spool of thread.
Underlining the extent of the clandestine market for tightly controlled high-tech equipment are court documents in the Karni case that the triggered spark gaps were probably only a minute part of illegal export operations in when he participated.