US sentences 'Chinese spy' for trying to steal trade secrets
The United States has sentenced what it claims to be a Chinese spy to two decades in prison for conspiracy to commit trade espionage.
A US Federal court in Cincinnati sentenced the first Chinese intelligence officer to be extradited to the United States to 20 years in prison for alleged conspiracy to steal trade secrets from aviation companies, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.
"This case sends a clear message: we will hold accountable anyone attempting to steal American trade secrets," US Attorney Kenneth Parker said in a statement.
"[Yanjun] Xu conspired to steal American science and technology. Thanks to the diligent work of the FBI, GE Aviation, and our trial team, he’ll spend decades in federal prison," Parker added.
Xu, a longtime intelligence officer of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), allegedly targeted US aviation companies, recruited employees to travel to China, and solicited their proprietary information, according to the statement.
Xu also reportedly lured aviation employees to China, often under the guise of giving a presentation at a university, and hacked computers in hotel rooms while the employees were taken to dinner by the MSS.
A federal jury in November 2021 convicted Xu on counts of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, attempted economic espionage and attempted trade secret theft.
Both counts of economic espionage for which he was convicted are punishable by US law with up to 15 years in prison, while each of the other three counts carries a 10-year prison sentence.
“Xu attempted to steal technology related to GE Aviation’s exclusive composite aircraft engine fan, which no other company in the world has been able to duplicate, to benefit the Chinese state,” the Justice Department said in a statement at the time.
According to the indictment, the Chinese Ministry of State Security assigned Xu to identify all employed experts by these companies and to attract them to China under the pretext of attending university conferences by paying for their flights.
He was arrested in Belgium back in 2018, where he had apparently been lured in a counter-intelligence operation, in the belief he would meet a General Electric employee on the trip. He was then extradited to the United States in October 2018 to face trial.
Two Jiangsu security officials, who appear to have worked under Xu, six hackers, and two employees of the French company were listed as accomplices in the operation in the 2018 charges.
The indictments revealed efforts to access specific computers and collect information from engines and parts using malware and phishing techniques.
China had denied the US accusations, stressing, in the words of its Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, that the US was "making something out of thin air."