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Chinese spy gets 8 years in prison for spying while student in Chicago

China's President Xi Jinping. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)
January 26, 2023

A Chinese national recruited as a spy while studying in Chicago was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday for helping to steal advanced U.S. technology.

Ji Chaoqun, 31, had been convicted on two charges for acting on China’s behalf, and a third charge of making a material false statement to the U.S. Army, according to a press release from the Justice Department.

A high-level Chinese intelligence official tasked Ji with providing biographical details on potential spy recruits, including Chinese nationals working for U.S. defense contractors, as part of an effort to steal advanced aerospace and satellite technologies, the release stated.

Prosecutors said Ji was recruited by Chinese spies after coming to Chicago in 2013 to study engineering. On a winter break trip back to China, he was “wined and dined” by handlers and vowed to “devote the rest of my life to state security” in an oath of allegiance, ABC News reported.

In 2016, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves under a program that allowed certain foreign nationals to enlist. He falsely stated in his application that he hadn’t had contact with a foreign government in the last seven years, and in an interview, didn’t disclose his Chinese contacts, according to the release.

He told an undercover U.S. agent posing as a Chinese spy that he could provide photos of aircraft carriers. He also said that once he had his citizenship and security clearance, he hoped to land a cybersecurity job with access to sensitive databases at the CIA, FBI or NASA, according to the release.

Ji’s primary handler, named Xu Yanjun, was handed a 20-year sentence in November for scheming to steal exclusive tech from GE Aviation related to a composite aircraft engine fan module, according to the Justice Department.

His case was historic, as he was the first intelligence officer from the Chinese government ever to be extradited to stand trial in the U.S., according to the release.

Other officers who worked with Xu in a regional division of China’s main spy agency had previously been charged for stealing U.S. designs for commercial aircraft engines, according to the Justice Department.