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Chinese spy arrested; first-ever extradition to US to face espionage, spying charges

United States Marshals fingerprinting a prisoner. (United States Marshals Service/Released)
October 10, 2018

After the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed charges against a Chinese intelligence agent for multiple crimes, the agent has just been extradited to the United States to face charges.

Xu Yanjun allegedly carried out economic espionage and theft of trade secrets after targeting Ohio-based aviation company, GE Aviation, along with other defense aviation companies, according to a DOJ statement released Wednesday.

Xu, a senior level intelligence official with the Chinese government, was extradited to the U.S. on Tuesday, marking the first time a Chinese official has been extradited to the U.S. to face their charges.

“This unprecedented extradition of a Chinese intelligence officer exposes the Chinese government’s direct oversight of economic espionage against the United States,” said Assistant Director Bill Priestap of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.

Belgium authorities assisted in securing Xu, after arresting him on April 1 and detaining him until his extradition.

“This indictment alleges that a Chinese intelligence officer sought to steal trade secrets and other sensitive information from an American company that leads the way in aerospace,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers.  “This case is not an isolated incident.  It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense.”

Between Dec. 2013 and Apr. 2018, Xu targeted leading aviation companies in the U.S. and abroad, including GE Aviation and others.

“He identified experts who worked for these companies and recruited them to travel to China, often initially under the guise of asking them to deliver a university presentation. Xu and others paid the experts’ travel costs and provided stipends,” according to the DOJ release.

Xu is specifically assigned to the Sixth Bureau of the Chinese Ministry of State Security’s (MSS) Jiangsu department, where he serves as Deputy Division Director. “The MSS is the intelligence and security agency for China and is responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence and political security.  MSS has broad powers in China to conduct espionage both domestically and abroad,” the DOJ release said.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Benjamin C. Glassman, said American aerospace companies are attractive targets for theft of trade secrets because of the billions of dollars spent on research and development across decades.

“This case shows that federal law enforcement authorities can not only detect and disrupt such espionage, but can also catch its perpetrators.  The defendant will now face trial in federal court in Cincinnati,” Glassman said.

Economic espionage carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, while conspiracy and attempted theft of trade secrets carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Additional fines may also apply.