The offer to the Federal Emergency Management Agency sounded promising: A Silicon Valley engineer said that he could deliver thousands of ventilators from manufacturers across China to help hospitals treat coronavirus patients.The engineer was asked for more details. Within 12 hours, he responded with a 28-page digital catalog of medical supplies at his disposal, including protective masks and goggles.

But there were also a series of caveats: Interested buyers had to sign a contract within four hours of receiving a quote and pay the entirety of the order upfront. “Nonnegotiable,” the catalog said. And the engineer, Yaron Oren-Pines, had no apparent background in procuring medical equipment.

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