The first Chinese intelligence officer ever to be extradited to the U.S. was convicted of attempting to steal aviation trade secrets by luring industry experts to China.
A federal jury in Ohio convicted Yanjun Xu, who worked for China’s Ministry of State Security, of conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets, according to the Justice Department.
Among the trade secrets that Xu tried to steal on behalf of China was technology related to GE Aviation’s composite aircraft engine fan, which has not been duplicated by any other company in the world, the Justice Department said.
Prosectors said he paid industry experts, beginning in at least December 2013, to travel to China under the guise of giving a university presentation on their subject matter.
Operating under aliases, Xu targeted aviation experts in the U.S. and abroad, including a GE Aviation engineer in Cincinnati, Ohio. The engineer traveled to China in May 2017 to give a presentation and met Xu, who paid for the employee’s travel expenses and a stipend. The GE engineer, who no longer works for the company and has not been charged with a crime, brought confidential company documents with him, according to WCPO, which cited a sealed FBI affidavit.
Xu later asked the engineer to send him more of the company’s information, but by that time the engineer was cooperating with the FBI to lure Xu to Belgium, where he was arrested in April 2018, according to the Justice Department.
Xu faces up to 60 years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.
“For those who doubt the real goals of the [People’s Republic of China], this should be a wakeup call; they are stealing American technology to benefit their economy and military,” said Alan E. Kohler Jr., the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division.
In recent years, the U.S. has increasingly accused the Chinese government of economic espionage. Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department launched its China Initiative, which made prosecuting trade theft, hacking and economic espionage cases a priority.