Embargo on Editing

Via Through the Looking Glass, I found out some news about my own backyard (IEEE). I know the news is old (October/November timeframe), but this is my weblog and I never promised timely coverage of news and events.

As you might know, the US has sanctions in place against several countries and organizations. Among the countries embargoed, there are Libya, Cuba, Iran and Sudan. The sanctions are monitored by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the US Treasury Department.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) publishes a lot of the journals and organizes a lot of the conferences that we Electrical Engineers use. They found out about how the sanctions regime affected them only recently.

Ironically, IEEE became aware of OFAC just before 9/11. IEEE staff were first alerted when the organization tried to pay for expenses related to the International Symposium on Telecommunications, a meeting that IEEE cosponsored in Tehran in the summer of 2001. “Our bank notified us—-Do you realize this isn’t allowed—-and we started looking at the regulations carefully,” Adler recalls.

Here are the services that IEEE cannot provide to its members in embargoed countries.

  • Access to editorial services related to publishing in journals.
  • Access to Web and e-mail alias accounts, online job listings.
  • Discounts on meeting registration fees.
  • Eligibility for awards and elevation of membership.
  • Use of IEEE logo and name to promote meetings and other activities.

I am not going to argue whether the overall idea of sanctions is a good one or not. I think there are times when it works, for example in South Africa, and times when it doesn’t work, like in Cuba.

What I find strange is the sort of stuff IEEE is not allowed to do, as compared with what is allowed, for members in embargoed countries. You would have to construct a really strange scenario in which the comments of journal editors and reviewers would affect things materially for the sanctioned country. Realize that, for example, Iranian members can publish papers in IEEE journals, but the review and editing process is not allowed. The result is that very few papers from those countries would be published, but in the end those papers which could be published as-is would be.

On 30 September, the U.S. Treasury Department (Washington, D.C.) informed the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) that it must continue to limit members’ rights in four countries embargoed by the United States: Cuba, Iran, Libya, and Sudan. The ruling means, among other things, that the IEEE, the world’s largest engineering association (and the publisher of this magazine), cannot edit articles submitted by authors in those countries, making it effectively impossible for most such work to appear in IEEE publications.

If IEEE wishes to edit and publish the work, the Treasury Department informed IEEE, it will need to apply for a special license. That ruling could in turn have far-reaching consequences for hundreds of other U.S.-based scholarly publishers and professional organizations.

[…]In his letter to IEEE, OFAC director R. Richard Newcomb stated that “U.S. persons may not provide the Iranian author substantive or artistic alterations or enhancement of the manuscript, and IEEE may not facilitate the provision of such alterations or enhancements.” Such enhancements include “reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax or grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words.”

The members in sanctioned countries also cannot get web access to journals or conference proceedings, but can get printed versions of the same. What exactly does that accomplish other than a delay of a month or two and the inconvenience of print as opposed to digital? I should also note that quite a lot of papers are available online at author’s websites etc.

I did some original reporting for this post as well. Actually, it involved talking to my Iranian friend(s). They are obviously pissed off at this and a lot of the members in Iran have left IEEE as a result.

In January 2002, when the IEEE first imposed its restrictions, it had over 1700 members in the embargoed countries, nearly all of them in Iran; only about 200 are still members. IEEE has about 380,000 members worldwide.

Also, since my Iranian friends are in the US now, they don’t fall under this sanctions regime and can do all this neat stuff that was prohibited to them when they were in Iran. it also seems that the prohibitions are country-specific, so let’s say a Britisher in Cuba would have the same restrictions.

What I also find strange is the cavalier attitude of the government departments entrusted with enforcing these sanctions. IEEE only found out about the sanctions in summer 2001. I am pretty sure that the embargoes have been there longer. Other professional organizations are following other prohibited items lists of their own or not.

Although the IEEE is drawing heat for observing the sanctions, in fact the rules would apply to any professional society having exchanges with embargoed countries. An informal survey of a half-dozen other science and engineering organizations found wide variation in their compliance, and familiarity, with the sanctions. For example, one group refused to send any publications to embargoed countries but did allow researchers living there to publish in its journals. Another group said it placed no restrictions on members living in embargoed countries, but its online membership form did not allow Libya or Cuba to be selected as one’s country of residence.

And finally, I know a lot of Iranian students, professors and researchers working in sensitive fields in the US. Wouldn’t that be more problematic than an IEEE email alias? It would, if sanctions regimes were rational.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. This is highly pathetic case. I already have my sympathies to the iranian designers, illustrators and artists who can’t subscribe to the world’s most respected design mag: Communication Arts. Also, through two of another iranian friends from ACM’s SIGGRAPH reported the same behavior as you just reported has been confirmed. The worst scenario in such situation doesn’t come soon enough but keep evolving as a “forbidden thought” that haunt the coming generations for years to come and no wonder Nazis and Bolsheviks could be seen as such examples.

  2. Ejaz: I don’t want to comment on the overall embargo policy since there are pros and cons to that and I haven’t fully developed my thoughts on it. However, this haphazard implementation doesn’t make sense from either point of view.

    And I didn’t get what you were trying to say in the last sentence.

  3. Subject: Donations

    If try to spend your money wisely not all on travelling then you do not have to beg others for donations.

  4. If try to spend your money wisely not all on traveling then you do not have to beg others for donations.

    Since when you need money. You came to the United States from the country where people sleep empty stomach. You and and your wife managed to earn a graduate degree in a year or two. I wonder what your parents had to do to earn this kind of money.

  5. Susan/Dude: Your behavior is very rude. I am not begging for donations, though I do appreciate if someone does donate. My readers are welcome to read without ever donating a single penny.

    I travel because I like to and use my own money for that. I don’t ask you to cough up for my travels, don’t worry.

    And as for your concern for my parents, they are doing well, thank you.

  6. Look who is talking about Injustices

    How come you are talking about injustices happening to other people, when atrocities are being committed by your fellow country men in every walk of life? Don’t your ruling class discriminate on the basis of religion, place of birth, ethnicity and what not.

    Don’t be so sympathetic about the people who have louder voices in the western world.

    One more thing why do your ARMY is always in charge of your country, you don’t have any leaders. OR they all are dead or in hiding. I wonder why?

  7. My Voice: You talking to me? Did you read what I wrote? Didn’t I make it clear that I was only talking about the rationality of the sanctions?

  8. No More Editing Embargo

    It seems that the embargo on editing scientific and technical papers from countries on which the US has imposed economic sanctions (Iran, Cuba, Libya and Sudan) has been lifted. According to IEEE, they can now publish papers from the embargoed…

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