The family who mined the Pentagon’s data for profit

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While the two sat at lunch, Botha handed Posey a shopping list of specifications and manuals for Newport Aeronautical to obtain. The South African would eventually order documents on a range of components, including propulsion units for the C-130 transport aircraft and, an old favourite, General Electric jet engines. Some of the items were on the US Ammunition List – technology, weapons and information whose export is tightly controlled, especially to a pariah nation like South Africa.

Posey later insisted on negotiating with the South African military through intermediaries. “I can’t be superficial with anyone. I need to stay below the surface so I’m protected from scrutiny,” he told Botha. When Botha asked what he meant by “protected from scrutiny,” Posey replied, “You know, protected from FBI scrutiny.”

It was far too late for that. The FBI had heard and observed everything.

Ibbotson listened as Posey told Roberta the deal would net Newport Aeronautical $98,000 (equivalent to about $260,000 today), and he listened as Posey told Edward James Bush, an English-born aerospace consultant , as a courier for the manuals and then launders the proceeds through his Canadian bank account. The two had already worked together, Bush said later. The year before, Posey had provided him with technical manuals for F-4 and F-5 fighters destined for the Iranian Air Force.

In early February 1987, a team of FBI agents Posey and Bush followed suit as they endeavored to print and package the South African documents. Bush planned to travel to South Africa via Argentina, where Posey wanted him to turn in some other technical manuals on space and missile systems for the Argentine Air Force.

While the men were organizing and packing the documents at the Newport Aeronautical office, the FBI intercepted the office bug. “It’s not just a routine job. They’re violating export laws,” Bush said, according to Ibbotson. “Fucking A,” Posey replied, and he and Bush went ahead with their plan.

On the afternoon of February 7, Bush checked in three white boxes and a blue suitcase for his trip and entered the boarding area of ​​Los Angeles International Airport. There he was arrested by agents from the FBI and US Customs Service. Around the same time, in Costa Mesa, the FBI searched the Newport Aeronautical Office and Posey’s home. When Posey, Roberta and their 2-year-old son returned home, they found unmarked FBI vehicles and more than a dozen agents crawling through their belongings — including the dictionary codebook Posey used to communicate with Van Vuuring .

Posey’s brother Robert, also an employee of Newport Aeronautical, bravely answered reporters’ questions. “It’s not like we’re really trying to hide anything,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “If we shipped guns or missiles that would be one thing, but these are books!”

In March, after Los Angeles TimesPosey became the first person to be charged under the Anti-Apartheid Act. He, like Bush, was charged with conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act. Vorster, the South African naval attaché, was mentioned in the indictment (but not charged) and is said to have left the country in a rush. Reached by email while in retirement in South Africa, Vorster told WIRED, “I had no personal contact with these gentlemen, and I certainly never met them.” Bush quickly pleaded guilty to violating the Arms Export Control Act and cooperated the FBI. However, Posey wanted his day in court.

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