“I felt like I was watching a car crash in slow motion”: Former DOD Official Exposes Broken U.S. Export Control System Strengthening the Chinese Military

For more than two decades, Steve Coonen served as a U.S. Army artillery officer and foreign affairs officer. After his active duty service, he helped lead the Pentagon’s unit charged with keeping sensitive American technologies away from our adversaries. As the Defense Technology Security Administration’s Senior Foreign Affairs Advisor for China, Steve won top performance awards, including the Award for Excellence from the Office of the Secretary of Defense in July 2020.

Then, in November 2021, he resigned from his post.

At the core of his decision to step away was principle: the U.S. government’s export control regime is marked by ineffectiveness and a willful blindness to how China is legally capturing controlled American technologies. Under the Chinese Communist Party’s official policy of Military-Civil Fusion, Beijing is putting sensitive tech in the hands of the People’s Liberation Army. Unfortunately, too many inside the federal government are content to rubber stamp applications to export technologies with clear military uses. Steve felt he had lost any ability to positively influence those responsible for this failing.

Now Steve is telling his story.  He has partnered with China Tech Threat to write Willful Blindness: An Insider’s Account of How America’s Ineffective Export Control Regime Increases Chinese Military Strength.

On Thursday, May 11, he will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee. Steve’s exhaustive, 7000-word exposure of the defective U.S. export control regime is sure to become an essential piece of analysis for anyone interested in U.S.-China technology and military competition. His thesis is that the various actors regulating technology sales to Chinese entities are turning a blind eye to the system’s failings. This negligence undermines American national security and dishonors our forces’ willingness to sacrifice for our country.

Steve articulates in detail:

  • How and why the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) approves technologies that China will clearly leverage for military purposes
  • How BIS stifles the national security-related objections of other federal agencies in the export control approval process
  • How the mechanisms the U.S. has in place to prevent unauthorized uses of American technology – including a single export control officer inside China – are virtually useless
  • How Congress can help fix this broken system, including
  • Making a presumption of denial policy the standard position for National Security (NS)-controlled technologies and many other critical technologies bound for the PRC.
  • Giving the Departments of Defense, State, and Energy greater authorities to  determine the outcomes of BIS-dominated license reviews.
  • Extending the amount of time federal officials have to review transfer requests to China

In an age when many former federal officials use their expertise to help companies skirt rules and regulations, Steve Coonen is calling BIS and the rest of the federal government to account for a willful blindness to what China is doing, to the detriment of American national security. Don’t miss this report loaded with hard-to-find details of how the export control system really works – or doesn’t.

Be sure to check out the blog on Substack.