Aventura Technologies is a New Jersey based company providing products to various U.S. government entities which enable those entities to safeguard their facilities and activities. They are a trusted provider of U.S. manufactured goods. Perhaps we should say, they were supposed to be. The reality was Aventura imported their devices from China and misled their government customers.

Since 2008, Aventura was an approved solution for U.S. government agencies and departments. They appeared on the Federal Supply Schedule as GS07F0391V.

Aventura’s contracts included an opportunity to provide equipment to 59 federal contracts. The contracting entities included DHS-FLETC, DOD-Army, Treasury -Bureau of Engraving, DOD -Navy, National Park Service, DOJ – FBI, DOD-USAF, DOE, DHS-ICE, DOJ-BOP, DOI, Treasury-IRS,  and the VA.

One could say that Aventura was a trusted entity.

Why made in the USA is important.

Beyond the legal requirements of the Buy America Act, there is a strong counterintelligence rationale for requiring certain equipment to be made in the U.S.

When you are the logistics officer for a given U.S. government entity which requires all items to be used by the entity be procured from United States sources, you know there just might be a counterintelligence reason behind the requirement. The government  wishes to be able to demonstrably show the provenance of the items. This is one of the many reasons the GSA Federal Acquisition Services exists. In this manner, the GSA approves for procurement various entities and their products and the logistics and procurement officers due diligence need go no further, as the GSA has done the legwork on the provenance of the approved items.

Aventura Technologies – Trusted until you can’t trust them

It turns out that Aventura Technologies couldn’t be trusted, as evidence by the arrest of seven of its principals on November 7 by Federal law enforcement. The criminal compliant unsealed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicates that Aventura wasn’t the manufacturer of the sensitive systems which were being procured via the various GSA contracts. Aventura was importing these goods, destined for U.S. government systems, via China, and then relabeling the items as “Made in the USA.” And they had been doing it from August 2006 through November 2019. These products were then smuggled into the United States and sold via the GSA Schedule as if they were “domestically manufactured.”

Among the products sold by Aventura included Chinese made video cameras which the DHS had banned from U.S. Government entities due to the remote access and exploitation capabilities built into the camera. An extract from the criminal complaint says it best:

“Network-linked surveillance cameras and other security equipment sold by AVENTURA to the U.S. government have been used to safeguard sensitive U.S. government facilities and assets. Equipment manufactured in the PRC and then sold by AVENTURA as purportedly U.S.-made has been installed on dozens of Army, Navy and Air Force bases, Department of Energy facilities, and among other places, on Navy aircraft carriers.”

A review of the criminal complaint details just how thinly-veiled Aventura was as a “domestic manufacturer.” The FBI interviewed former employees and all remarked how no manufacturing occurred in the U.S., yet correspondence between the principals of Aventura and the GSA provide assurances that manufacturing is being conducted in the U.S. Indeed, over the nine year period 2010-2019, Aventura received 1550 shipments from abroad, of which 960 were from China.

Jack Cabasso, the managing director of Aventura demonstrated, according to the criminal complaint, the ability to speak out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. Cabasso would complain to the GSA that other “contractors” were using products from a given Chinese provider of technology, yet this same Chinese firm was Cabasso’s lead provider of technology.

Government wide counterintelligence headache

Eleven years of Chinese manufactured technologies, purchased via the 59 GSA identified contracts, will need to be identified, removed, and replaced for national security reasons. In addition, the products sold to U.S. government contractors will need to also be identified, removed and replaced. The former will be a much lighter lift than the latter, given the government procurement paper trail may be more complete than that of the commercial entities.

The multi-agency investigative task force which worked together to bring Aventura down will now have to work together to conduct the counterintelligence damage assessment. Which of the various devices sold by Aventura was in fact sending information back to China as part of a Chinese offensive intelligence operation? And what was the information compromised by those devices?

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney summed it up nicely, “Greed is at the heart of this scheme, a reprehensible motive when the subjects in this case allegedly put into question the security of men and women who don uniforms each day to protect our nation. There is no mistaking the cyber vulnerabilities created when this company sold electronic surveillance products made in the PRC, and then using those items in our government agencies and the branches of our armed forces. I cannot stress enough that we will do everything we can to search out and stop any other company willing to cut corners and pocket profits that endanger the lives of Americans, and make this country less safe.”

Yes, Aventura’s greed has created a monumental counterintelligence headache.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com