A Chinese national was sentenced to 20 years in a US prison after being found guilty of attempting to steal trade secrets related to composite materials from aircraft engine supplier GE Aviation.
This case marks the first time a Chinese government intelligence officer has ever been extradited to the United States to stand trial.
According to a statement released by the US Department of Justice on November 16, 2022, the deputy division director at the Chinese Ministry of State Security Yanjun Xu had targeted various US-based aerospace companies and attempted to steal data, which included trade secrets and US military information.
The Chinese government intelligence officer was convicted by a jury in Cincinnati on November 5, 2021, for “conspiracy to commit economic espionage, conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, attempted economic espionage and attempted trade secret theft,” the Department of Justice said. According to the court documents, Xu had been illegally collecting information from at least December 2013.
In 2017, Xu attempted to steal technology related to GE Aviation’s composite aircraft engine fan module in order to benefit China.
The investigation revealed that a GE Aviation employee in Cincinnati was solicited to give a report at a university in China. The employee traveled to China two months later to present at the university and was introduced to Xu. Xu and others paid the employee’s travel expenses and a stipend.
In January 2018, Xu requested that the employee provide “systemf specification, design process” information and, cooperating with GE Aviation and the FBI, the employee emailed material from the manufacturer that included a label that warned about the disclosure of proprietary information, the statement noted.
“Xu began discussing with the employee the possibility of meeting in Europe during one of the employee’s business trips and asked the employee to send a copy of the file directory for his company-issued computer,” investigators revealed.
Xu traveled to Belgium with cash and pictures of the employee on April 1, 2018. The Chinese national was scheduled to meet with the employee and was arrested at that time.
The Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs secured Xu’s extradition to the United States “with valuable assistance provided by the government of Belgium, as well as the Belgian Federal Police”.
“This case is just the latest example of the Chinese government’s continued attacks on American economic security – and, by extension, our national security,” FBI Director Christopher Wray was quoted as saying the statement.
He concluded: “The Chinese government tasked an officer of its spy service to steal U.S. trade secrets so it could advance its own commercial and military aviation efforts, at the expense of an American company. This brazen action shows that the Chinese government will stop at nothing to put our companies out of business to the detriment of U.S. workers.”