A US federal jury has convicted a top Chinese intelligence officer of trying to steal secrets from General Electric, the first time a Department of State Security official has been extradited to the United States for trial.
The Department of Justice said that a federal jury in Ohio found Xu Yangun, a senior officer with the Department of Homeland Security from Jiangsu Province, guilty on five counts, including two of attempted economic espionage.
Xu was arrested in Belgium in 2018. He was lured by US agents who had been tracking his efforts to acquire aviation-related technology, notably a composite aircraft engine propeller made exclusively by GE Aviation.
“For those who question the true aims of the People’s Republic of China, this should be a wake-up call,” said Alan Koehler, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. “They are stealing American technology for the benefit of their economy and their military.”
Matthew Olsen, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said it showed how China is using espionage to modernize its industries. “With the support of our allies, we will continue to investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable those attempting to illegally reap the fruits of American ingenuity,” he said.
The conviction represented a major victory for the United States, which has struggled to prosecute Chinese intelligence officers. It comes as US intelligence agencies ramp up their warnings to companies about Chinese efforts to acquire technology in vital high-tech industries, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
Xu was accused of identifying employees of leading airlines and inviting them to China to give presentations at universities. He asked a GE Aviation employee who had traveled to China to help him with private information and suggested they meet in Belgium. But he was arrested on the day of his arrival in the European country in a scathing operation that included cooperation with the Belgian authorities.
The US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in recent years have stepped up their operations to crack down on Chinese espionage amid concerns that China is supplying vital technology to its military and state-owned companies.
In a speech at the Economic Club of New York last week, Chris Wray, the FBI director who has been very vocal about Chinese espionage, urged US companies to be more vigilant about cyber espionage from China.
“Most of the time, this threat comes from the Chinese government or the companies under their control,” he said. “And to say they have good resources is an understatement.”
Continued Dimitri Sevastopoulo on Twitter