Jeffrey LewisJapnese Bust Export Violator

Sorry I’ve been so absent lately. I’ve just been really, really, really busy. Anyway, James and Andy have done a wonderful job in the interim.

The Japanese have raided yet another business — Horkos, based un-ironically in Hiroshima Prefecture — for export control violations. Horkos is accused of exporting machining centers without the proper license. High-end machining centers can be used to manufacture centrifuge components:

A listed item requires approval for export by the minister. Horkos is suspected of falsely declaring more than one such machine tool as of lower caliber that does not require ministerial authorization for exports. The tools are suspected of having been exported to South Korea by ship in 2004.

The buyer is a general company that is not involved in weapons development but the machine tools may have been resold, the police said.

The BBC adds that “Police say the equipment, which was sent to South Korea, could have been sold to North Korea or the Middle East.” Could? Sounds like speculation to me. (AFP and AP are more restrained.)

The Horkos website is still up, by the way — with a helpful list of products. Maybe someone with better technical chops than mine (which is to say, any) would like to figure out which of the machines are controlled. For a reference point, I recall that Urs Tunner bought a Cincinnati Hawk 150 Machining Center for SCOPE.)

Seems to be a lot of this going around in Japan — although this sounds like a coincidence.


  1. Major Lemon (History)

    Yes it sounds like speculation from the BBC, but once the machinery leaves Japan, then of course it can go anywhere!

  2. Yale Simkin (History)

    A not quite bulletproof, but still a good step forward in export-resistant technology, is being implemented by Yamazaki Mazak Corp.

    Mazak to Modify Its Machines to Enhance Export Compliance

    Mazak Corporation, the North American manufacturing, sales and support arm of Japan-based Yamazaki Mazak Corporation announced that all of its products will have relocation detectors installed in them. Mr. Tomohisa Yamaszaki, president of Yamazaki Mazak Corporation has pushed the company to include these detectors on every machine produced and shipped from any Mazak plant to any location throughout the world.
    The relocation detector is a permanent device that will be located in the electrical cabinet of the machine. Any repositioning of the machine or relocation will signal an alarm and in turn completely shut down the machine. A password will be required each and every time the machine is moved to verify the new location.
    This technology has been available for quite some time. This is however, the first time it has ever been used to prevent violation of US and Japanese export laws.

  3. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    There is actually a slightly more interesting phenomena going on in Japan during the last 5-10 years.

    Historically, Japan had a large corps of small little shops with highly skilled people with equipment and expertise who made high tech components that went into Japanese manufactures sold under the usual household Japanese names.

    Many of these little shops have gone bust, and as they did so, the machines were sold on the open market, and many of these former high tech workers ended up working in jobs all over Asia… China, S. Korea, Taiwan, etc.

    In a process similar to what happened 20 years ago when Korean firms hired Japanese engineers to work for them on the weekends (leave Friday nite, back Monday morning), many of these people found work elsewhere in Asia. Korean electronics makers were notorious for using “weekend” Japanese engineers to help them.

    Lots of skills and expertise got transferred that way.

    Export controls or not.

    In the hands of highly skilled operators and technicians, sometimes, not terribly sophisticated machinery can make very sophisticated stuff.

  4. John F. Opie (History)

    Hi –

    The link you provide to the Horkos product line shows that ALL of the machines shown directly on that page are numerically controlled.

    As a matter of fact, all machining centers have numerical controls. They don’t make sense without them, as machining centers combine multiple tool types – drills, borers, cutting heads – into a single unit to process multiple manufacturing steps into a single process: if you do not have numerical controls for this, you’re throwing away most of the advantages you gain from not having to re-position workpieces and tools…

    And of course any of these machines can be used for weapons manufacturing: the key is trying to prevent the bad guys from getting them. By forbidding their direct purchase, you can’t stop the trade, but you certainly can make it much more expensive.

    And there are cases where the machines are used only briefly for a set period before ending up where they were supposed to end up in the first place: in the 1980s, the Swiss sold a bunch of precision ball-bearing machines to the Soviets, who first made the super-precision ball bearings they needed to improve MIRV warhead accuracy before delivering the machines to their final destination, Poljot (1. Moscow Watch Factory), where they were used to build rather nice, rugged chronometers (P3133 and its variants) for both military and civilian use…

    Fundamentally, it’s impossible to stop such trade, but it is useful to make it as hard as possible to acquire the machines, as this gives you a) the ability to find out what the bad guys want to buy and figure out what they can make with it (and hence what they want to make with it…) and b) allows you to find their acquisition networks and those who are happy to sell technology to the highest bidder…

  5. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    I can’t imagine that relocation detectors are that hard to bypass.

    There are several basic technologies that can achieve this goal:

    A) GPS position sensors

    B) Inertia / movement sensors

    C) “Call Home” electronics and software

    Each of these systems can be spoofed by a reasonably competent crew.

    Then there are certain customers who will simply not buy anything so equipped – like the NSA.

    For each spoof, there will be counters, and then counter counters….

    The real problem is, machines sophisticated enough to manufacture nuclear weapons was available in the 1930s, well before CNC. So what sort of deterrence does it really serve?

    As for the ultimate spoof, leave the machine in situ, and then machine the part on the sly when no one is looking.

    Even machines that report usage data “home” can be spoofed.

  6. Yale Simkin (History)

    The Mazak system is your “B” option. It is tip/jar sensor, similar to a pinball tilt trigger.

    It locks out the controls and requires a factory reset password.

    As I pointed out, and you emphasized, it is not bulletproof.

    Like a desk-drawer lock, it mostly keeps honest people honest.

    By making easy diversions less available, scarce police/monitor/inspection resources may be better targeted.

    And as you pointed out, fission bombs, reactors, EMIS, reprocessing, etc does not require state-of-the-art equipment, altho they are a big help.

    On the other hand, fusion bombs, missile components, and ultracentrifuges most certainly benefit from topline machining hardware and computers, altho less high tech techniques are adequate.

    Yale Simkin