A Chinese national and Deputy Division Director of the Sixth Bureau of the Jiangsu Province [Ministry of State Security] was convicted by the United States federal jury on Friday, Nov. 5 for conspiring to and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets. The 41-year-old Yanjun Xu earlier yesterday became the first Chinese intelligence officer to be extradited and to ever stand a trial related to an ‘espionage’ case in the US. US Department of Justice found the Chinese intelligence officer “guilty on all counts” as he illegally used various aliases that dated back to 2013 to steal the trade secrets of the leading US aviation companies, and some based abroad, US Department of Justice’s Office of the public affairs stated in a press release on Nov. 5, citing the federal court documents.
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“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,” he went on to add.
As per the US federal court documents and evidence presented at trial, beginning in at least December 2013, Xu targeted the aviation firms recognized as global leaders in the field of aviation to spy the secrets back to China. He allegedly stole information related to GE Aviation’s proprietary composite aircraft engine fan, an FBI investigation found.
"This was state-sponsored economic espionage by the PRC designed to steal American technology and put Americans out of work," said Alan E. Kohler Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in the US Department of Justice’s press document.
"For those who doubt the real goals of the PRC, this should be a wake-up call; they are stealing American technology to benefit their economy and military,” he stressed.
According to US DoJ, Chinese intelligence officer Xu recruited industry experts from aviation firms to travel to China in the guise of giving presentations at the Chinese universities, whereas they traded secrets. The former paid the agents all travel expenses as well as a stipend for these undercover trips to Beijing. The court found that in March 2017, a GE Aviation employee was invited to deliver a presentation at a Chinese university and had later met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The now-convicted Chinese intelligence officer Xu in January 2018 had asked an employee to present "system specification, design process" information in China, with the cooperation of the US aviation company that was 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,” the court found. Xu had later scheduled a meeting in Europe where information was transferred via his personal computer as he sent a copy of the file directory for his company-issued computer. Xu travelled to Belgium on April 1, 2018, for a then undisclosed meeting with an employee and was arrested by the US authorities at that time on charges of conspiring and espionage that carries a maximum statutory penalty of 15 years in prison for each count and a fine of up to $5 million. He was also convicted of conspiracy to commit trade secret theft and two counts of attempted theft of trade secrets, which carries a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years in prison for each count and a $250,000 fine.
“Xu 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,” US DoJ said.
The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs secured Xu’s extradition to the United States, with the help of information provided by the government of Belgium and the Belgian Federal Police.