Chinese spy convicted of attempting economic espionage

A Chinese national and card-carrying member of the Communist Party of China was convicted on Friday of conspiring to and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets by stealing technology from the American company GE Aviation.

According to court documents, Yanjun Xu used multiple aliases in an attempt to steal a composite aircraft engine fan exclusive to GE Aviation in order to benefit his homeland and faces a fine of up to $5 million and a maximum prison sentence of 15 years for each of the two counts.

Xu, who was the Deputy Division Director of the Sixth Bureau of the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, faces an additional $250,000 fine and 10 years behind bars for each of three additional counts including conspiracy to commit trade secret theft and two counts of attempted theft of trade secrets.

“The jury, by its guilty verdict here today, held Xu accountable for his classic spy techniques,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Vipal J. Patel for the Southern District of Ohio in a press release by the Department of Justice. “Xu conspired to commit economic espionage on behalf of the Chinese government, and he tried to steal the valuable innovation and trade secrets of industry-leading American aviation technology companies. This office will continue to seek to protect American innovation and hold accountable those who attempt to steal our nation’s science and technology, regardless of status or affiliation, whether civilian, military or spy.”

“This was state-sponsored economic espionage by the PRC designed to steal American technology and put Americans out of work,” said Alan E. Kohler Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “For those who doubt the real goals of the PRC, this should be a wakeup call; they are stealing American technology to benefit their economy and military.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation probe revealed Xu began his espionage as early as December 2013 where he wooed leaders in aviation to China with paid trips under the auspices of giving a university presentation.

In early 2017, an employee of GE Aviation from Cincinnati, Ohio received a paid trip and stipend to give such a presentation at a Chinese university where he met Xu.

The following year, Xu asked for “system specification, design process” information from the aviation employee and attempted to obtain a copy of the file directory from GE Aviation’s work computer.

On April 1, 2018, Xu was arrested in Belgium after planning a trip to meet the employee who coordinated with FBI officials.

“This is surely among the most significant victories by United States law enforcement against China’s naked ambition to acquire intellectual property by whatever means, legal or otherwise,” said former U.S. Attorney Ben Glassman, who oversaw the case in 2018 when Xu was extradited to Cincinnati in 2018, according to a report by WCPO.

“The answer of the United States to another country’s ambition to gain through theft is simply to hold people accountable under the law. I’m proud to be an American,” Glassman said.

He shared similar sentiments on social media, applauding the victory in the Cinncinati courtroom.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division made clear that the department will continue to pursue similar cases to protect the intellectual property of Americans and US companies.

“This conviction of a card-carrying intelligence officer for economic espionage underscores that trade secret theft is integral to the PRC government’s plans to modernize its industries,” he said. “But this conviction also serves notice that the United States will not sit by as China, or any other nation-state, attempts to steal instead of researching and developing key technology. Instead, and with the support of our allies, we will continue to investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable those who try to take the fruits of American ingenuity illegally.”

Ashley Hill

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