UPDATED 6:31 AM PT — Thurs. Oct. 11, 2018
A Chinese security official is facing trial in the U.S. after the Department of Justice discovered a scheme to steal U.S. aviation and aerospace secrets.
Cincinnati federal prosecutors charged Yanjun Xu with four counts of conspiracy and economic espionage after he was extradited from Belgium.
An FBI investigation found Xu to be an operative of the Chinese Ministry of State Security, making it the first time a Chinese intelligence officer has been brought to the U.S. to face trial.
FBI counter intelligence said the arrest exposes the Chinese government’s direct oversight of espionage against the U.S.
“Xu is a deputy division director in the Zhengzhou province of the Chinese Ministry of State Security, or MSS,” stated Benjamin Glassman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. “One of Xu’s job duties was to obtain technical information, including trade secrets from aviation and aerospace companies in the United States and Europe.”
Prosecutors said from 2013 to his arrest in April, Xu would recruit experts from aviation companies to travel to China under the false pretense they would give educational presentations at a university.
According to court documents, he planned to obtain “highly sensitive information” from their lectures.
“Whether they’re small, medium or large and in every field from aviation to agriculture, companies should see that Chinese officials are seeking to acquire their intellectual property, not only through hacking, but also through the recruitment of insiders,” Glassman explained. “Companies should also see that working together with federal law enforcement authorities, as in this case, those attempted thefts can be thwarted and foreign actors can be brought to trial for their actions — working together, we can stop China’s efforts to steal the intellectual property of American companies.”
U.S. officials said while no military information was targeted, the offense is still a threat to national security.
The extradition comes amid U.S. suspicion of Chinese intelligence gathering campaigns against the U.S. as well as an escalating trade war between the two countries.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy to steal trade secrets is 15-years in prison.