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US Army reservist arrested and charged with being a Chinese spy

Members of the Clovis, N.M., Police Department's Special Weapons and Tactics team handcuff U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Daniel Santiago, 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron investigator, during a hostile threat exercise at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., June 20, 2012. (Airman 1st Class Eboni Reece/U.S. Air Force)
September 26, 2018

An alleged Chinese spy was arrested recently in Chicago, and he was also a reservist in the U.S. Army.

Ji Chaoquan, 27, a Chinese immigrant and U.S. Army Reserves member, was arrested by federal authorities Tuesday after allegations that he engaged in efforts to recruit U.S. defense contractors in a spying scheme for China, NPR reported Wednesday.

A 17-page Justice Department document says Ji faces one count of “knowingly act[ed] in the United States as an agent of a foreign government.” He could face a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.

Ji reportedly worked under a senior intelligence official from the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, a division of the Chinese Ministry of State Security. His assignment was to provide the official with “biographical information on eight individuals for possible recruitment by the JSSD.”

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Ji completed his assignment, obtaining the background information on eight individuals, all of whom were Taiwan- or China-born U.S. citizens and residents.

“All eight individuals either currently worked in or were recently retired from a career in the science and technology industry, including several individuals specializing in aerospace fields,” the complaint reads. It adds, “at least seven of the eight individuals worked for, or had recently retired from, cleared U.S. defense contractors,” the document said.

Additionally, all eight individuals were engineers at “the world’s top aircraft engine suppliers for both commercial and military aircraft.”

Federal authorities executed a search warrant in Oct. 2017 and discovered numerous email and text message exchanges between Ji and the Chinese official. An undercover FBI agent met with Ji in April and May, and Ji admitted meeting the Chinese official at a high school recruitment fair.

Ji emigrated to the U.S. on a student visa in 2013, and graduated with a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago in 2015. He was a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, having enlisted in 2016 through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, which authorizes enlistment of immigrants with vital skills.

Ji’s MAVNI enlistment required him to submit a security clearance form asking whether he had communications with foreign governments or agents, to which he asserted that he did not. Upon interviewing with an officer in the U.S. Army, Ji again asserted he had no contact with such entities.

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“By collecting this information for an arm of the Chinese government while in the United States, Ji knowingly and unlawfully acted as an agent of a foreign power,” said FBI agent Andrew McKay in the document.

When Ji appeared in court, he requested that authorities notify the Chinese consulate of his arrest. Although a Chinese translator was available, he spoke in English to acknowledge he understood his rights. The judge ordered him to remain in jail.

China has ramped up their efforts in recruiting U.S. citizen spies, even using LinkedIn to expand their recruiting efforts. Their aggressive spying efforts remain a concern for U.S. intelligence agencies.