US federal jury convicts China intelligence officer for economic espionage and theft of aviation secrets
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US federal jury convicts China intelligence officer for economic espionage and theft of aviation secrets

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Friday that a federal jury has convicted Chinese national Yanjun Xu of conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets. Xu works for the Ministry of State Security in China and is the first Chinese intelligence officer to be extradited to the US for trial.

Xu has been convicted for attempting to steal aerospace technology relating to General Electric Aviation’s (“GE Aviation”) exclusive composite aircraft engine fan to benefit the Chinese state. According to court documents, XU has been targeting US companies that are leaders in the field of aviation since December 2013. He used multiple aliases to recruit experts who worked for these companies and arranged for their travel to China, initially through of pretense of inviting them to make presentations at a Chinese university.

In March 2017, he solicited a GE Aviation employee in Ohio to give a report at a Chinese university. Almost a year later, he requested “system specification, design process” information which was mailed to him with a label warning against disclosure of proprietary information. At that time, the employee and his company were working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US. In April 2018, Xu traveled to Belgium to meet with the employee and was arrested with the cooperation of the local authorities.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division has said:

This conviction…underscores that trade secret theft is integral to the PRC government’s plans to modernize its industries… But this conviction also serves notice that the United States will not sit by as China, or any other nation-state, attempts to steal instead of researching and developing key technology. Instead, and with the support of our allies, we will continue to investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable those who try to take the fruits of American ingenuity illegally.

A federal district court judge will now determine Xu’s sentence. The count of conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage carries a maximum penalty of fifteen years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5 million. For the count of conspiring and attempting to steal trade secrets, it is ten years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000.