Operation Dragonfire

Operation Dragonfire is a sweet name. Perfect for a video game or cheesy movie. Oh, wait, G.I. Joe actually had an episode called Operation Dragonfire, which will dominate your search results if you use the term. Operation Dragonfire was also the name of a U.S. Customs undercover operation to bust Chinese businessmen looking to smuggle in and sell everything from AKs to surface-to-air missiles to criminal elements. If you’ve ever wondered why Canada can get those sweet Chinese arms imports and we can’t? It’s because of Operation Dragonfire. 

Operation Dragonfire – How It Started 

Operation Dragonfire started the way most things do. Someone blabbed. They blabbed to U.S. Customs Agent Gary Hipple that a Chinese Arms Dealer named Hammond Ku was looking for a way to get around customs to bring in firearms. Specifically firearms from Norinco and PolyTechnologies. 

Hipple went undercover as a member of organized crime with a fellow custom agent and former Green Bay Packer lineman named Byron Braggs. The 350-pound, six-foot, six-inch tall lineman played his bodyguard and likely did it convincingly. 

Talk is one thing, but Ku wanted to see what Hipple could do. Ku had gun parts flown in from China to California. Hipple picked them up, walked right past Customs, and stashed them in a locker, leaving a key hidden in a potted plant for Ku to retrieve. 

Rolling Deep 

From there, the next phase of Operation Dragonfire worked on importing gun parts. Eventually, Hipple stated he wanted to buy guns to sell to criminals. Ku gave instructions for Hipple to fax his secretary with things he wanted. They used code words like Alpha Kings for AKs and poppers for grenades. Customs teamed up with the ATF, and they placed an order for 2,000 AKs for 700,000 dollars. Not a bad deal. 

Ku wasn’t some enterprising Arms Dealer. He said out loud he worked for Robert Ma, the head of PolyTehcnologies in the United States, and Richard Chen, the head US rep for Norinco. PolyTechnologies and Norinco are both directly owned by the Chinese Communist government. Ma even arranged for the shipment of AK via a freight ship to California. The salesman claimed the guns could come in clean and devoid of markings. 

To me, that implies they would be produced at Chinese-owned factories devoid of markings. The rifles arrived in boxes marked as hand tools and were promptly seized by the United States government. This wasn’t all that was offered. The Chinese were offering bigger and better munitions, including surface-to-air missiles. Ku claimed they could shoot a 747 down. 

Customs wanted to continue Operation Dragonfire, but guess what? Someone blabbed. Media outlets got wind of Operation Dragonfire, and to avoid tipping off the Chinese, arrest warrants were issued. Ku and Chen were snatched, but Ma was in the wind. A half dozen other collaborators were arrested along the way. 

The End Result 

Operation Dragonfire ended with a string of arrests, weapon seizures, and sanctions on Chinese arms imports. We can import shotguns and commonly do, as well as shotgun ammo. However, handgun and rifle imports were killed in the cradle. Great Chinese AKs dried up and are now worth a fortune. Hell, we can’t even import Chinese SKS rifles anymore. It’s interesting to think that Norinco would have probably sold way more guns to the American market if they didn’t try to sell a couple thousand to gang bangers. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.