A Chinese spy sought to obtain trade secrets related to secret technologies from American and French aviation companies.
A Chinese government intelligence officer was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Wednesday for economic espionage and an attempt to steal trade secrets from GE Aviation, an aerospace-focused subsidiary of General Electric.
Yangjun Xu, 42, became the first Chinese intelligence officer to be extradited to the United States to stand trial. He was convicted by a federal jury in Cincinnati on November 5, 2021 on multiple charges of attempted economic espionage and theft of trade secrets. Court documents show he targeted GE Aviation to steal technology related to GE Aviation’s aircraft engine composite fan module, which has not been duplicated by any other company in the world, to benefit the Chinese military and aviation sector.
“As proven in the course of the trial, the defendant, a Chinese state intelligence officer, used a range of methods to attempt to steal technology and confidential information from companies based both in the US and abroad,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press release. release. Chinese officials have previously said the allegations against Xu were “pure fabrications”.
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According to the Ministry of Justice, Xu’s career as an intelligence officer began in 2003, and he has risen to the position of deputy section chief of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), China’s intelligence and security agency. Xu’s attempts to obtain trade secrets from US companies recognized as leaders in aviation began in 2013.
He used aliases and shell companies to deceive employees of these companies, recruited them to travel to China under the pretext that they would give presentations at the university, and paid their travel expenses. Xu and other MSS employees hacked or copied the computers of aviation workers while MSS unwittingly invited them to dinner.
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Xu also spoke openly about efforts to obtain information about US military programs in addition to commercial aviation trade secrets in conversations with his agents and targets. His spying efforts also extended to US allies as he recruited assets from within a manufacturing facility in China that was owned by the French aerospace company Safran, according to the source. litigation. The assets installed malware to infiltrate the company’s network in France.
He also worked with a man named Ji Chaokun, who was convicted in September 2022 for working on behalf of MSS on Xu’s orders and joined the US Army with the intention of obtaining a top-secret security clearance. Gee was apprehended after he told an undercover FBI agent that he had access to US military bases and volunteered, unprompted, to photograph US aircraft carriers for MSS.
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Xu’s spying scheme was exposed after a Cincinnati-based GE Aviation employee traveled to China for a presentation in May 2017. Upon the employee’s return, they and GE Aviation worked with the FBI, who continued to communicate with Xu, posing as the employee. After Xu received a two-page confidentiality warning by email, he asked an employee to meet him in Europe while on a business trip and obtain a file catalog from the company’s computer. Xu was arrested in Brussels, Belgium on April 1, 2018 and extradited to the US for trial.
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“This case is just the latest example of the Chinese government’s ongoing attacks on US economic security – and by extension our national security,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “The Chinese government has assigned an officer of its intelligence service to steal US trade secrets so that it can promote its own commercial and military aviation efforts at the expense of a US company. This brazen act shows that the Chinese government will stop at nothing to stop our companies from operating at the expense of American workers,” he added.
GE Aviation, which will be renamed GE Aerospace and spun off in January 2023 following a company-wide reorganization, manufactures gas turbine engines for a range of US military aircraft. GE Aviation recently completed final testing of the aircraft. upgraded engine for the F-35 Lightning stealth fighter. It also made engines for fighter aircraft such as the F-15 Eagle and F/A-18 Super Hornet; helicopters UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook; and the C-5 Galaxy strategic transport.
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