[time-nuts] Atomic clocks and Wassenaar agreement

jimlux jimlux at earthlink.net
Sun Aug 20 12:52:14 EDT 2017

On 8/20/17 9:15 AM, Attila Kinali wrote:
> On Sun, 20 Aug 2017 11:28:17 +0000
> "Poul-Henning Kamp" <phk at phk.freebsd.dk> wrote:
>>> As far as I can tell, there is no explicit mention of atomic
>>> clocks.
>> There very much is:
> Oops... missed that one. Sorry about that.
> (I wonder how. I am sure I searched for "atomic")
>>> But the list of dual use electronics is long and broad.
>>> E.g. Section 3. A. 1. b. 10. covers basically all low noise
>>> frequency sources. Including just a simple low-noise XO.
>>> Does anyone have more specific knowledge?
>> Knowledge ?  No.  Some Experience ?  Yes.
> My condolences. I only had to deal with ITAR as a buyer once.
> That was enough for a lifetime.
>> The people who wrote the list very much know why they put things
>> onto it, and in the process of narrowly tailoring the restrictions
>> often give more away than they probably should.
> Yes. I skimmed through some of the electronic restrictions.
> Given that a lot of SDR can be used in one of those ways listed,
> it's damn easy to "accidentally" build something that has export
> restrictions on it.
>> [1] I've always wondered about that rule and I suspect it is a
>>     mistake.  Knowing who is on this list, I imagine that the next
>>     revision will read the far more sensible: "Non-rubidium *or*
>>     having ..."
> Yes, singling out Rubidium is kind of weird.
> Any guesses as for why?

I have some experience in this area - in the US it's the USML (United 
States Muntions List) that determines what is subject to controls under 
ITAR - that's run by the Department of State.  Then there's the 
Controlled Commodities List which features in the EAR run by the 
Department of Commerce.  The two groups have different objectives.

ITAR tends to focus a lot on "knowledge" as well as "things" - EAR is 
more about "things"  - A component might be export controlled, but the 
data sheet isn't.

Also, there's a huge difference between "speculating" that something is 
so and "knowing" that something is so, in terms of design information or 
performance.  If you're interested in building, say, a guidance system 
for a ICBM - performance in a UAV might be a good indication that it 
would work, but there's no substitute for test in a real missile.

A few years ago, there was a big rewriting of the USML - to make it more 
specific in terms of capabilities, etc. rather than fuzzy - folks 
seeking export licenses were frustrated by the previous more generic 
language (often including the phrase "designed for military purposes" or 
similar).   For spacecraft, it got a lot more liberal - before "if it 
goes into space, it's ITAR" was the basic rule - afterwards, it's more 
about "does it tell someone how to make it, design it, etc." and a lot 
more things fell into more of a dual use (EAR is more about dual use) 
bucket - just because you're using 6-32 machine screws or 100MHz OCXOs 
on your spacecraft doesn't make ALL 6-32 screws or the same OCXO in 
other uses export controlled.

This was a godsend for us cobbling together breadboards for things that 
might someday go into space in a different form - before, if the work 
was funded by a "space technology development" sort of bucket, the 
evaluators would tend to say: yeah, that's export controlled, because 
the "design intent" is for an eventual space application. That made it 
hard to publish papers and reports openly as well as other tedious 
administrative aspects - you can't put export controlled information 
just anywhere or transmit it any old way, etc.

  That process, of course, gets input from both industry and government, 
and is not perfect.  But if you are a maker of a specific widget, you 
could weigh in on the rule making process and explain why YOUR 
particular widget's technology should or should not be controlled. 
"should not" if you want to sell it overseas; "should" if you want to 
avoid competition.

And then, there's a sort of continuing revision process - as each new 
license application (or commodity jurisdiction (CJ) request) makes its 
way through the system, that folds back to the actual rules or, more 
importantly, their interpretation.

ALso as "work-arounds" for technology become well known, the rules 
gradually change.  A good example is things like selective availability 
and code-less 2 frequency GPS.

There's also well known hacks - a mfr might claims that their parts are 
rad tolerant up to a particular level, even though they're made on a 
process which is well known to be much harder.  To claim that they're 
hard to a higher level would make them subject to ITAR instead of EAR, 
for instance.

Like all regulatory matters, the wheels grind slow and exceedingly fine. 
  MUCH slower than the advance of technology (nothing has really changed 
since you couldn't export pinball machines which had 68000 
microprocessors) and that's something you live with.

And then, there's also just plain old typographical screwups - I'm sure 
there are rules where it should be AND instead of OR, or someone wrote a 
description designed to cover a particular class of "dangerous" stuff, 
that inadvertently covers a much wider range. Small handheld software 
defined spectrum analyzers have multiple uses - most people use them as 
lab equipment, but SOME people use them as a tactical sensor.

So seeing a weird exception isn't all that unusual.

As the export lawyer explained to a group of us engineers a while back - 
do NOT read the rules and try to rationally analyze them to figure out 
if your thing falls in or outside - the rules are not internally 
- Especially, do not try to "design around" the rules to avoid controls. 
When your license app goes in, somebody at State (or Commerce) will be 
looking at the totality and might make the decision based on other 

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