Illegal exports of US military equipment and technology to hostile countries including Iran and China is on the rise and curtailing it is a top priority the US federal government says.

According to recent Pentagon reports, there was a 43% increase in suspicious foreign contact with US defence companies last year and 108 countries attempted to buy US technology which is restricted for sale.

Sought after equipment includes missiles, fighter jet parts and night vision goggles. Officials say some equipment may be used for non-hostile purposes but items such as medical devices can be used as switches to detonate nuclear weapons.

Last week, SparesGlobal, a spare parts distribution company, was sentenced for lying about exporting equipment used in nuclear reactors and ballistic missiles in 2003 that ended up in Pakistan.

Assistant Attorney General Ken Wainstein says new government efforts to crack down on illegal exports are the Justice Department’s top counterintelligence priority.

by Elizabeth Clifford-Marsh