A Canadian manufacturer of night-vision goggles that reportedly ended up in the hands of Islamist rebels says the technology was initially sold to the Iraqi government.
Peter Biro, CEO of Toronto-based Newcon Optik, said the night-vision goggles that appeared in tweets purportedly from a jihadist fighter in Iraq were part of a sale of equipment to Iraq’s Special Operations Forces, a military unit tasked with anti-terrorist operations.
Without singling out Iraq, Biro said many countries that buy military equipment have lackadaisical controls on their inventory.
“Stuff gets put into a cupboard, it isn’t locked up … inventory lists aren’t cross-checked,” Biro said.
He argued that Canadian manufacturers and the government “couldn’t be doing more” to prevent technology with military uses from falling into the wrong hands.
“We are regulated in so many different ways,” he said, adding that his company does “a ton of work” to verify who the end users of its technology will be.
The possibility that Canadian-made technology is helping rebels of ISIS, the Islamist group that declared a caliphate in northern Iraq this year, first popped up on Twitter earlier this month.
A purported jihadist rebel by the name of Abu Turaan al-Kanadi (“the Canadian”) tweeted a pic of what he said were night-vision goggles, manufactured in Canada, that were now in the hands of rebels.
The goggles in question, Newcon Optik’s NVS 7 model, are designated as “dual-use” by the Canadian government, and are not considered “military grade” technology.
Although restrictions are in place on the export of dual-use devices, the restrictions are not as tight as for “munitions,” a category that includes military-grade weapons.
Al-Kanadi told Vice magazine that the goggles were part of a stash of weapons the rebels found after Iraqi government forces fled a battle. He would not say what other weapons the rebels found in the abandoned stash.
“I hope you have a good imagination, ha ha,” al-Kanadi told Vice in a text message conversation.
In a phone conversation with The Huffington Post, Biro said Newcon Optik was able to trace the exact model that ended up on al-Kanadi’s Twitter feed, thanks to its serial number.
He said his company takes steps to help ensure that equipment doesn’t end up in the hands of criminals or terrorists by requiring some end users to explain how they will implement inventory controls. In some cases, he says, the company recommends control measures to the buyer.
But Biro suggested the phenomenon of military equipment ending up in unauthorized hands is commonplace. He noted that there are numerous insurgencies around the world, and none of them have official contracts for military equipment.
“Where does anyone think this stuff is coming from?” he asked.