Export Controls:

Challenges and Changes For Controls on Computer Exports

T-NSIAD-00-187: Published: May 26, 2000. Publicly Released: May 26, 2000.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed export controls for high performance computers, focusing on how the executive branch: (1) assesses the national security risks associated with the export of high performance computers going to countries of concern; (2) determines when the exports of computers at existing performance levels can no longer be controlled; and (3) has addressed arrangements for post-shipment verifications of high performance computer exports.

GAO noted that: (1) the executive branch has not clearly articulated the specific national security interests to be protected in controlling the export of computers at various performance levels, nor has it stated how countries of military concern could benefit from using such computers; (2) without a clear statement of these interests, it is unclear how the executive branch determines what are the militarily critical applications that may affect U.S. national security; (3) in addition, the executive branch has relaxed export controls on computers because it believes that machines at the previously approved levels had become so widely available in the market that their export is uncontrollable; (4) the Department of Commerce defines controllability to include the "volume of sales" for certain types of microprocessors that can be easily assembled and maintained by foreign end users; (5) the executive branch, however, relaxed controls based on what computer manufacturers asserted would be their next mass-produced processors, not on actual sales; (6) post-shipment verifications confirm the physical location of high performance computers and, to the extent practical, verify if they are being used as intended; (7) however, while post-shipment verifications are important for detecting and deterring physical diversions of computers, as traditionally conducted, they do not verify computer end use; and (8) although the National Defense Authorization Act requires post-shipment verifications on all high performance computers exported since November 18, 1997, to tier 3 countries--whether licensed or not--Commerce has not visited high performance computers exported to China prior to an end-use arrangement reached in June 1998, and believes that to seek to do so would be futile.

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