September 7, 2010
The Smoking Gun
A U.S. Marine used eBay to illegally sell dozens of high-tech munitions–some of which he claimed to have found discarded near a dumpster at Camp Pendleton in California–to foreign buyers, transactions that federal investigators allege violated arms export laws covering such “sensitive and classified technologies,” The Smoking Gun has learned.
After a two-year investigation, a federal grand jury has been impaneled to review the activities of Douglas Rubsam, 32, who is suspected of stealing military property worth more than $100,000 and selling it via the online auction site, according to court records.
In an affidavit sworn by a Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) agent, Rubsam is accused of making “at least 42 sales of export-restricted military items to overseas buyers in at least 14 countries, including among others the People’s Republic of China (Hong Kong) and Russia.”
Rubsam allegedly sold “at least five types of export-restricted items,” including components for night vision goggles. According to DCIS Agent John Helsing, Rubsam frequently sold an item known as a Light Interference Filter Assembly (LIF), which “protects the optics inside the night vision goggles from being damaged by enemy lasers.” The LIF incorporates “sensitive and classified technologies that give the U.S. military and certain allies an advantage on the battlefield,” Helsing added.
In his affidavit, excerpted here, Helsing estimated, based on a review of eBay and PayPal records, that Rubsam “sold well over 200 LIFs.”
As with the other items sold by Rubsam, the LIFs are on the U.S. Munitions List and cannot legally be exported without a license issued by the Department of State. Control over the LIFs is so tight that when they reach the “end of its service life it must be destroyed completely, and cannot be transferred or re-utilized outside” the Department of Defense. Included in the restricted munitions Rubsam sold on eBay, Helsing reported, was part of an assembly “used to attach a 40mm grenade launcher to a rifle,” and a device “used in connection with the infrared aiming laser on a rifle.”
In an interview today, Rubsam denied stealing the military items he sold on eBay and termed the criminal probe a “personal vendetta” on the part of the lead military investigator. Rubsam, who joined the Marines in early-2005, said that he left the corps last year with an honorable discharge. He is now managing a Virginia marina owned by his wife’s family.
The probe of Rubsam began in March 2008 when DCIS agents received a tip that government property–a LIF–was being sold on eBay. When agents subsequently questioned Rubsam at Camp Pendleton he claimed to have found dozens of LIFs in a “cardboard box…near a dumpster in his unit’s area on Camp Pendleton.” He later gave agents a box–which had “TRASH” written on it with a marker–containing 10 LIFs (but which, according to a Defense Logistics Agency label, originally contained 100 LIFs).
Rubsam acknowledged that “a Marine selling Marine gear” on eBay “looks funny,” but added that investigators had “no proof” of criminality on his part. He added that he had been unaware of export rules covering certain munitions.
Asked why such “sensitive and classified technologies” like the LIFs would be recklessly discarded as he claims, Rubsam said, “You’d be surprised what gets thrown out.” As for why he just did not turn the items over to his superiors, Rubsam said that he simply did not think of doing that.
According to Helsing’s affidavit, filed this week in U.S. District Court, military investigators have probable cause to believe that Rubsam has “engaged in the unlawful export” of munitions, lied to federal agents, and “knowingly engaged in monetary transactions involving criminally derived property.”
The government probe has recently moved into the grand jury phase, with agents seeking to subpoena Rubsam’s father-in-law to testify before that panel. However, when two DCIS agents tried to serve him with papers at his Virginia home in early-May, Rubsam’s 78-year-old relative allegedly pointed a gun at them. He was subsequently arrested and charged with a felony count of “assaulting, resisting, or impeding” government agents.