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Technology Makes New England A Target For International Spies

BOSTON (CBS) - A lot of the technology behind weapons used by the U.S. military is created in New England. There are more than 1,000 military contractors based here, most doing classified or top secret work.

Boston's Special Agent in Charge Richard DesLauriers of the FBI says our enemies are constantly working to get at those secrets.

"The loss of classified national defense information would be very damaging and could pose grave damage to the security of the United States government," says DesLauriers. "It's a real threat, it's a real threat that we take very seriously inside the FBI."

WBZ-TV's Jonathan Elias Reports

The FBI helps train the contractors to be on guard. Companies like Raytheon and MITRE, universities like Harvard and M.I.T. The list is long and they turn out everything from missile guidance systems to advanced radar.

In 2010 a Russian couple with kids posing as a typical American family had been living unnoticed for years in Cambridge. They were rounded up by the FBI as spies and sent back to Russia.

January of last year a Belmont resident was sent to prison for exporting electronics used in missile systems to China. In some cases they don't need to steal technology; they can buy it.

A trigger spark gap can be used to break up kidney stones in a hospital. It can also be sued to detonate nuclear bombs.

A Salem company sells spark gaps to hospitals. Most need about six of them, but in 2004 federal agents arrested Asher Karni of South Africa for ordering 200 of the switches. He was passing them on to an arms dealer in Pakistan.

Special Agent in Charge of Commerce in Boston John McKenna says terror groups and terrorists are always trying to get a hold of components that can be used to make weapons.

"There are certain situations where if goods went where they shouldn't and we weren't able to control them bad things can happen unfortunately," says McKenna.

And control is exactly what federal agents are constantly fighting for.

McKenna says, "Whether it's traditional espionage, or economic espionage, whether its violation of our export laws, there are a number of ways an individual can damage our national security."

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