A Chinese intelligence official has been arrested and charged with conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and steal trade secrets from multiple US aviation and aerospace companies, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.
Yanjun Xu, aka Qu Hui, aka Zhang Hui, a Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) operative, was extradited to the US on Tuesday, following which the charges were unsealed on Wednesday.
Arrested in Belgium on April 1, Xu was indicted on four counts of conspiring and attempting to commit espionage and theft of trade secrets.
Xu is a Deputy Division Director with the MSS's Jiangsu State Security Department, Sixth Bureau. The MSS is the intelligence and security agency for China and is responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence, and political security.
MSS has broad powers in China to conduct espionage both domestically and abroad.
According to the indictment, beginning December 2013 and till his arrest, Xu targeted certain companies recognized as leaders in the aviation field both in and outside the United States.
This included GE Aviation. He identified experts who worked for these companies and recruited them to travel to China, often initially under the guise of asking them to deliver a university presentation. Xu and others paid the experts' travel costs and provided stipends.
He faces a maximum statutory penalty of 15 years.
"This indictment alleges that a Chinese intelligence officer sought to steal trade secrets and other sensitive information from an American company that leads the way in aerospace," Assistant Attorney General John Demers said.
"This case is not an isolated incident. It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at America's expense. We cannot tolerate a nation stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower. We will not tolerate a nation that reaps what it does not sow," he said.
Innovation in aviation has been a hallmark of life and industry in the United States since the Wright brothers first designed gliders in Dayton more than a century ago, US attorney Benjamin Glassman said.
"US aerospace companies invest decades of time and billions of dollars in research. This is the American way. In contrast, according to the indictment, a Chinese intelligence officer tried to acquire that same, hard-earned innovation through theft," he alleged.
"This case shows that federal law enforcement authorities can not only detect and disrupt such espionage but can also catch its perpetrators," Glassman added.
(With inputs from agencies.)