Illicit Nuclear & Missile Procurement Activities

50 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2013

See all articles by Orde F. Kittrie

Orde F. Kittrie

Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Date Written: July 24, 2013


This essay provides an overview and analysis of Iran’s nuclear and missile procurement activities and the efforts of the United States and its allies to detect, deter, and disrupt those activities. It also derives lessons learned and makes recommendations for how the U.S. and its allies can more effectively counter those Iranian activities.

Iran’s nuclear and missile programs remain heavily dependent on foreign suppliers. Since Iranian procurement of key nuclear and missile technology is prohibited by legally binding resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, Iran must procure this material illicitly. Over the past three decades, Iran has acquired more and more experience bypassing export regulations, hiding end users, and otherwise evading detection of its illicit trafficking activities. Iran’s nuclear program is rapidly approaching a point of “critical capability” at which Iran could dash for a bomb before the IAEA or Western intelligence could detect such a step.

To disrupt Iran’s illicit networks, the U.S. and its allies have worked together with increasing frequency to share intelligence, extradite and prosecute complicit individuals, and ultimately shut down Iranian trafficking rings. Although such collaborations have resulted in a number of successful prosecutions, efforts to combat Iran’s procurement network are too often slow and ineffective. The weak strategic trade controls of several key countries continue to be a particularly significant obstacle.

With governments and firms worldwide on the lookout for illicit Iranian government procurement efforts, Iran has increasingly turned to middlemen to serve as key links in its nuclear and missile procurement networks. These middlemen smuggle dual-use materials via front companies located in countries including China, Turkey, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore. Although many schemes involving middlemen have been very complex, comprising multilayered networks of individuals and trading companies, several other successful procurements have been remarkably simple. Through a variety of tactics, these middlemen have filled a critical void in Iran’s nuclear procurement activities, for which traditional methods such as direct state purchase and indigenous production are no longer possible or efficient.

This report’s Section Two details and analyzes Iran’s procurement activities. It includes a discussion of Iran’s nuclear and missile program (focusing on items that the regime seeks to procure), the middlemen involved in the schemes, the key countries through which transshipment occurs, and the tactics utilized. Section Three discusses the response to Iran’s nuclear program by the United States, the European Union, and several key countries of diversion concern, with a particular focus on responses to Iran’s use of middlemen. Section Four provides both lessons learned and several recommendations for more effectively combating Iran’s procurement networks.

Keywords: nuclear, missile, proliferation, brokering, illicit procurement, Iran, networks

Suggested Citation

Kittrie, Orde F., Illicit Nuclear & Missile Procurement Activities (July 24, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Orde F. Kittrie (Contact Author)

Arizona State University (ASU) - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law ( email )

Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States

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