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First Chinese spy extradited to US found guilty of trying to steal US aviation secrets

U.S. and China flags (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr)
November 08, 2021

A spy working for the Chinese Ministry of State Security was convicted by a U.S. federal jury for “conspiring to and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets,” the Justice Department revealed on Friday.

Yanjun Xu, the first Chinese intelligence officer to be extradited to the United States to stand trial, is now facing up to 60 years in prison and fines totaling over $5 million. A federal district court judge will determine Xu’s sentence.

According to the DOJ, Xu had used multiple aliases since December 2013 to “target specific companies in the United States and abroad” to obtain information in the field of aviation.

Xu identified experts and 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.”

In early 2017, an employee with GE Aviation in Cincinnati, Ohio, was asked to present a report at a Chinese university. While in China, the employee was introduced to Xu, who later requested “system specification, design process” information from the employee.

Working with the FBI, the employee emailed “a two-page document from the company that included a label that warned about the disclosure of proprietary information.”

In February 2018, Xu traveled to Belgium to meet with the employee on a business trip where he was later arrested.

“This conviction of a card-carrying intelligence officer for economic espionage underscores that trade secret theft is integral to the PRC government’s plans to modernize its industries,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in a statement. “But this conviction also serves notice that the United States will not sit by as China, or any other nation-state, attempts to steal instead of researching and developing key technology. Instead, and with the support of our allies, we will continue to investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable those who try to take the fruits of American ingenuity illegally.”

FBI Assistant Director Alan Kohler Jr. said the bureau is partnering with more than 50 other federal agencies to combat “illegal activities” committed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

“This was state-sponsored economic espionage by the PRC designed to steal American technology and put Americans out of work,” Kohler said in a statement. “For those who doubt the real goals of the PRC, this should be a wakeup call; they are stealing American technology to benefit their economy and military. The FBI is partnering with over 50 U.S. Government agencies to share information and investigative resources to stop the PRC’s illegal activities.”