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First Ever Chinese Intelligence Officer Convicted On US Soil For Theft Of American Aviation Trade Secrets


One down and (how many) left to go?

For the first time in history, a Chinese Communist intelligence officer has been convicted on US soil.

Yanjun Xu was arrested and extradited in 2018 and extradited to the United States to stand trial for charges of trade secret theft.

However, the larger theme here is China’s determination to increase its national industrial power by any means necessary.

From the official Department of Justice press release:

A federal jury today convicted Yanjun Xu, a Chinese national and Deputy Division Director of the Sixth Bureau of the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, of conspiring to and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets. The defendant is the first Chinese intelligence officer to be extradited to the United States to stand trial.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “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.”

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. “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 Assistant Director Alan E. Kohler Jr. 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 FBI is partnering with over 50 U.S. Government agencies to share information and investigative resources to stop the PRC’s illegal activities.”

According to an article by Business Insider , Xu had been in contact with officials in the United States, when he paid for a group of Americans from the aviation industry to travel to China. The cover that was given for the invite was said to be “university presentations.”

Prosecutors said that from at least December 2013, Xu paid US industry experts to travel to China under the guise of giving university presentations, covering their travel expenses and a stipend.

Xu tried to steal technology related to GE Aviation’s composite aircraft engine fan, which no other company in the world has been able to duplicate, the DoJ said.

Xu targeted a GE Aviation employee based in Cincinnati, Ohio, the DoJ said. The employee, working with the FBI, later travelled to Belgium to meet Xu. Xu was arrested in Belgium on April 1, 2018, and was later extradited to the US.

Check out this video from 2017.

Very early on, President Trump sought to address the threat China poses to our competitive advantages of industry.

“Forced transfer” is a big problem where companies that do business with Chinese companies are forced to transfer their intellectual property in order to gain access to the market.

Another thing that jumped out to me was Xu’s 2013 excuse to get American executives to China under the guise of academic interests.

The DOJ has known for quite some time that the Chinese attempt to send “thousands” of spies to the United States as either college students or academics.

Consider this 2019 article from the Washington Examiner that touches on the subject.

Chinese intelligence services have sent “thousands” of people to U.S. colleges under the guise of college students and professors, federal officials said.

“We want to encourage people to come here and study,” Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, told reporters Friday . “This isn’t about targeting everyone who’s a Chinese national. But there are thousands who are directly linked to a state-sponsored effort to steal intellectual property.”

“The message to all the schools is: One, be aware that you are a target,” John Demers, the assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, said during the briefing. “Universities also have a lot of people coming in and out: students, visiting professors who are here for a year … You may not know the folks there as well as you do maybe in a company.”

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According to the most recent State Department data , more than 363,000 Chinese students studied in the U.S. in 2017-2018, nearly a third of all international students enrolled at U.S. institutions.

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned last year that China was using “nontraditional” intelligence collectors to launch a “whole-of-society” threat against the U.S. Those worries found an echo among lawmakers who worry that Chinese educational programs are platforms for propaganda and influence operations , while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been warning European allies that Chinese tech giants such as Huawei and ZTE are also being used as spy assets.

Very scary stuff.

Who knows how many are still out there…

Maybe Eric does.


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