US arrests alleged Chinese national for targeting major aviation companies

The FBI calls the case against a Chinese intelligence officer "unprecedented."

October 10, 2018, 2:48 PM

Federal authorities have charged a Chinese national for his alleged efforts to steal sensitive technology from major U.S. aerospace firms by recruiting employees at those firms.

The Chinese Ministry of State Security operative, Yanjun Xu, has been arrested and charged with conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

"This case is not an isolated incident," the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, John Demers, said in a statement. "It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense. We cannot tolerate a nation's stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower."

As far back as 2013, Xu targeted key aviation and aerospace companies around the world, including GE Aviation inside the United States, on behalf of China's Ministry of State Security, according to the Justice Department. 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, the Justice Department said.

In May of last year, a GE Aviation employee went to China and met with Xu, according to the Justice Department. They remained in contact, and in February 2018, Xu persuaded the GE Aviation employee to send him a company presentation relating to aviation that included proprietary information, U.S. authorities said. At one point, Xu tried to get the employee to meet him in Europe and to "dump" GE Aviation information onto a device for him, the authorities added.

The FBI has collected Xu's communications with Chinese government officials, reflecting their espionage efforts, an FBI official said.

Xu was arrested in Belgium on April 1, and within a few days he was secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Ohio. He appealed his arrest in Belgium, but his appeals ultimately failed and he was extradited to the U.S. on Tuesday, authorities said.

The head of the FBI's counterintelligence division, Bill Priestap, called the extradition of a Chinese intelligence officer "unprecedented."

Testifying before a Senate panel on Wednesday morning, FBI Director Chris Wray said: "China in many ways represents the broadest, most complicated, most long-term counter-intelligence threat we face."

Wray said that while nations like Russia are fighting today's fight, "China is fighting tomorrow's fight."

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