(CNN) — Former Marine Daniel Duggan once flew Harriers for the United States, taking off and landing on Navy aircraft carriers during international missions as part of Marine Attack Squadron 214, based in Yuma, Arizona.
That was more than 20 years ago, but his activity since leaving the service is now the subject of a US indictment alleging he used his specialized skills to teach Chinese pilots how to land planes on aircraft carriers, a claim he denies.
Since last October, Duggan, 54, has been held in a maximum security prison in Australia while his lawyers fight an extradition order, approved by Australia’s attorney general, to return him to the US and face trial on charges including money laundering and conspiracy to export US defense services.
Duggan’s lawyers on Tuesday requested a stay of extradition while Australia’s Office of the Inspector General for Intelligence and Security (IGIS) investigates allegations of wrongdoing by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), including that Duggan was “lured” from China, where he lived, to Australia, where the US had legal reach to arrest him.
The case comes as the US and its allies seek to unite against China in the Indo-Pacific, where Beijing has fortified islands with military installations that it fears could one day be used in a regional conflict.
From Lithgow Correctional Centre, where he is being held, Duggan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that he was “living a nightmare”. “I strongly reject the allegation in its entirety,” he said.
Duggan’s wife, Saffrine, wants the Australian authorities to block her extradition, and on Tuesday she and some of her six children stood outside the courthouse holding signs calling for her release.
“We are horrified that something like this could happen, not just to us, but to anyone,” Saffrine Duggan told her followers.
“I never would have thought that this could happen in Australia, let alone in our family. My family is brave and strong, as are our friends, as is my husband, but we are all terribly destroyed [by this].”
Saffrine Duggan speaks to her supporters outside a Sydney court on Tuesday, July 25, as lawyers discuss her husband’s case. (Credit: Paul Devitt/CNN)
After completing his last assignment as a major with the Marines, Duggan moved to Australia in 2002. He met Saffrine in 2011 and a year later he became an Australian citizen, renounced his US citizenship and the family moved to China.
Saffrine and the children returned to Australia in 2018, and Duggan joined them in September 2022, after being cleared by Australian security for an aviation licence, her supporters say.
But within weeks, that authorization was revoked and he was arrested.
The charges relate to a period between November 2009 and November 2012, when Duggan, then a US citizen, is alleged to have trained Chinese military pilots in China, according to a 2017 indictment unsealed last December.
The indictment says that “as early as 2008,” Duggan received an email from the US State Department telling him that he should register with the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls and apply for permission to train a foreign air force.
Instead, he claims that he conspired with others, including the Test Flight Academy of South Africa (TFASA), to export defense services in violation of an arms embargo on China.
An undated photo of former US fighter pilot Daniel Duggan with his wife Saffrine in Tasmania. (Credit: courtesy of Saffrine Duggan)
In a statement to CNN, TFASA said it complies with the laws of all jurisdictions in which it operates.
The statement said Duggan signed a test pilot contract for the company in South Africa between November and December 2012, and “never worked for TFASA in any of its training mandates in China.”
The indictment alleges that Duggan negotiated directly with a Chinese company to provide other defense services for a fee, including “evaluation of trainee pilots, testing of naval aviation-related equipment, instruction in tactics, techniques, and procedures for launching aircraft and landing on a naval aircraft carrier.”
Duggan told ABC none of the training involved the disclosure of any secret or proprietary information. “It’s all public domain, open source information that anyone, if they’re interested, can look it up on Google or on Wikipedia,” he said.
The training offered by TFASA allegedly involved the use of a T-2 Buckey