News, Culture & Society

First Chinese intelligence officer to be extradited to the US is sentenced to 20 year in prison

The first Chinese government intelligence officer to ever be extradited to the United States to stand trial was sentenced to 20 years in prison for espionage crimes and attempting to steal trade secrets.

Yanjun Xu, 42, was sentenced at the federal court in Cincinnati on Wednesday after he targeted American aviation companies to solicit trade secrets and recruited employees to travel to China on behalf of the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The 42-year-old had been working for the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), the intelligence and security agency for China, when he was arrested during a business trip to Belgium in 2018.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the case highlighted the growing threat from China on American economic security and by extension the country’s national security.

‘The Chinese government tasked an officer of its spy service to steal U.S. trade secrets so it could advance its own commercial and military aviation efforts, at the expense of an American company,’ said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

‘This brazen action shows that the Chinese government will stop at nothing to put our companies out of business to the detriment of U.S. workers.

The first Chinese government intelligence officer, Yanjun Xu, 42, to ever be extradited to the United States to stand trial was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being arrested in Belgium

Xu started his long career with the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and rose to the rank of deputy division director

Xu started his long career with the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and rose to the rank of deputy division director

The FBI said the case is an example of the growing threat from China on American economic security and by extension national security

The FBI said the case is an example of the growing threat from China on American economic security and by extension national security

‘As long as the Chinese government continues to break our laws and threaten American industry and institutions, the FBI will work with its partners across the globe to bring those responsible to justice.’

Southern District of Ohio US Attorney Kenneth L Parker said that the case sent a clear message that those who attempt to steal American trade secrets will be held accountable.

‘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,’ he said.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the Xu’s crimes took place both within the United States and abroad.

‘As proven at trial, the defendant, a Chinese government intelligence officer, used a range of techniques to attempt to steal technology and proprietary information from companies based in both the U.S. and abroad,’ said Garland.

‘Today’s sentence demonstrates the seriousness of those crimes and the Justice Department’s determination to investigate and prosecute efforts by the Chinese government, or any foreign power, to threaten our economic and national security.’

Xu was convicted of conspiracy to commit economic espionage and conspiracy to commit trade secret theft as well as attempted economic espionage and attempted trade secret theft in November 2021.

Xu was a career intelligence officer starting his career in 2003 and rising to the rank of deputy division director at MSS.

Court documents and trial testimony found that Xu had started targeting specific companies in the United States and abroad that were recognized leaders in the field of aviation around December 2013.

The seasoned intelligence spy would use aliases, front companies and universities to deceive aviation employees and solicit information from them.

He would identify individuals who worked for the companies recruit them to travel to China often under the guise that they were there travelling to give a presentation at a university.

Xu was sentenced at the federal court in Cincinnati after he targeted aviation companies to solicit trade secrets and recruited employees to travel to China on behalf of the government of the People's Republic of China

Xu was sentenced at the federal court in Cincinnati after he targeted aviation companies to solicit trade secrets and recruited employees to travel to China on behalf of the government of the People’s Republic of China

Court documents revealed that he targeted American aviation companies, such as GE as well as aviation companies abroad for trade secrets for China

Court documents revealed that he targeted American aviation companies, such as GE as well as aviation companies abroad for trade secrets for China

Xu and others paid the employees stipends on top of travel costs during the elaborate schemes that were executed in ‘full coordination’ with the MSS and China’s aviation entities.

He had also been working with others in the MSS to hack or copy computers in hotel rooms while the aviation employees, his guests, were taken to dinner by the MSS.

Xu openly talked about efforts to also obtain US military information in addition to commercial aviation secrets.

One such company Xu attempted to steal technology from was GE Aviation a subsidiary of General Electric.

He had hoped to gain access to information about GE aviation’s exclusive composite aircraft engine fan module, which no other company in the world has been able to replicate, in order to benefit the Chinese state.

In March 2017, a GE Aviation employee in Cincinnati was solicited to give a report at a university in China.

The employee travelled to China two months later to present at the university and was introduced to Xu – who had paid for the employee’s travel expenses and stipend.

After the trip to China, the FBI took over communications with XU, posing as the employee that he had met.

In January 2018 Xu requested ‘system specific, design process’ information from the employee.

GE Aviation, who had been working with the FBI sent a two-page document from the company that included a label that warned about the disclosure of proprietary information.

Just one month later, Xu started discussing with the employee the possibility of meeting in Europe during of the employee’s business trips and asked them to send a copy of the file directory for his company-issued computer.

In April, Xu travelled to Belgium with cash and pictures of the employee who was scheduled to meet.

In a secret sting operation Xu was arrested at the time of the fake meeting.

The Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs swiftly secured Xu’s extradition to the United States with the help of the Belgium government and federal police.

Xu registered Ji Chaoqun (pictured) as a formal MSS overseas agent asking the 31-year-old  living and studying in Chicago to collect information on people who he wanted to potentially recruit to work with them

Xu registered Ji Chaoqun (pictured) as a formal MSS overseas agent asking the 31-year-old  living and studying in Chicago to collect information on people who he wanted to potentially recruit to work with them

In September a federal jury in Chicago convicted Chaoqun for working on behalf of the MSS under the direction of Xu

In September a federal jury in Chicago convicted Chaoqun for working on behalf of the MSS under the direction of Xu

Last month, a federal jury in Chicago convicted Ji Chaoqun, 31, for working on behalf of the MSS under the direction of Xu.

Chaoqun, a Chinese citizen, had been living and studying in Chicago. Xu served as his handler and had registered him as a formal MSS overseas agent in January 2014 directing the university student to collect information on people to potentially recruit to work with them.

The 31-year-old was provided named of at least nine people in America to recruit and in turn sent back detailed background reports on each person.

He was also given training on how to speak to the FBI if approached at school.

In May 2016 Chaoqun joined the US army through a program that allowed legal aliens with vital skills, such as Chinese fluency, to enlist.

He went on to tell Xu that he had successfully infiltrated the military as a MSS officer and planned to obtain citizenship quickly in order to gain top-secret security clearance.

Without prompting, the young Chinese agent reported to an undercover FBI agent that he had access to all military bases with his military ID and volunteered to take pictures of aircraft carriers for the MSS.

The crimes he committed were under the guidance of Xu on behalf of the MSS.

‘Xu’s handling and placement of a spy within the United States to obtain information regarding aviation technology and employees is yet another facet of Xu’s egregious crimes towards the United States and further justifies the significant sentence of imprisonment he received today,’ said Parker.

The evidence trial also revealed that Xu recruited insiders, who were willing to spy on his behalf, within a French aircraft engine manufacturer’s China facility.

Their target was a French employee who often travelled to China for work.

In 2013 he directed his spies to plant malware on the French employee’s work computer, with the hope of infiltrating the company’s network in France.

The trial revealed that Xu had an integral role in the installation of the malware, had given instruction to destroy the malware, and had monitored the success and cover-up on the operation.

How a Chinese intelligence spy attempted to steal aviation secrets:

2003: Yanjun Xu started his long career with the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and rose to the rank of deputy division director.

2013: In December, court documents revealed Xu started to target aviation companies using aliases, front companies, universities and recruits to deceive aviation employees.

With the help of recruits from the Chinese facility of a French aircraft engine manufacturer, that remained nameless, Xu targeted a French employee who travelled to China for work.

Xu was found to have been integral in installing malware, instructed for its destruction and monitored the success and cover-up of the operation.

2014: Xu registered Ji Chaoqun as a formal MSS overseas agent in January asking the 31-year-old who had been living and studying in Chicago at the time to collect information on people who he wanted to potentially recruit to work with them.

Xu provided nine names of people in America to Chaoqun who proceeded to get detailed information and background reports together.

Chaoqun was also given detailed training on how to evade and remain under the radar if approached by the FBI at school.

2016: In May Chaoqun joined the US army through a program which allowed legal aliens with vital skills such as Chinese fluency, to enlist.

Without prompting he reported to an undercover FBI agent asking to volunteer to take photos of aircraft on behalf of MSS saying he had military access to all military bases.

2017: In March a GE Aviation employee in Cincinnati was solicited to give a report at a university in China.

May that year, the employee travelled to China to present at the university and was introduced to Xu – who had paid for the employee’s travel expenses and stipend.

After the trip to China, the FBI took over communications with XU, posing as the employee that he had met.

2018: In January Xu requested ‘system specific, design process’ information from the employee.

GE Aviation, who had been working with the FBI sent a two-page document from the company that included a label that warned about the disclosure of proprietary information.

February that year, Xu started discussing with the employee the possibility of meeting in Europe during of the employee’s business trips and asked them to send a copy of the file directory for his company-issued computer.

In April, Xu travelled to Belgium with cash and pictures of the employee who was scheduled to meet.

In a secret sting operation Xu was arrested at the time of the fake meeting.

The Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs swiftly secured Xu’s extradition to the United States with the help of the Belgium government and federal police.

2021: Xu was convicted of conspiracy to commit economic espionage and conspiracy to commit trade secret theft as well as attempted economic espionage and attempted trade secret theft in November.

2022: In September a federal jury in Chicago convicted Chaoqun for working on behalf of the MSS under the direction of Xu.

In November Xu was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk