A federal jury in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Friday, Nov. 5, convicted Yanjun Xu, a spy for China’s Ministry of State Security, of committing economic espionage and attempting to steal U.S. aviation trade secrets by luring industry experts to China, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report. 

Among the companies from which Xu attempted to steal their technology on behalf of the Chinese regime was General Electric (GE), with a particular interest in the composite aircraft engine fan, for which he holds a patent and no other manufacturer does. 

The 41-year-old Chinese intelligence officer, was deputy division director of the Sixth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security in Jiangsu province, and is reportedly the first spy to be extradited to the United States to stand trial.

The historic trial, which took place in a Cincinnati courtroom, lasted three weeks. The U.S. Department of Justice reported that the Chinese spy was found guilty on all charges, including attempted economic espionage, theft of trade secrets and conspiracy.

Alan E. Kohler Jr, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division stressed that Xu’s economic espionage activity was “state-sponsored economic espionage by the PRC designed to steal American technology and put Americans out of work.” 

He further stated, “For those who doubt the PRC’s true objectives, this should be a wake-up call; they are stealing U.S. technology to benefit their economy and military.”

According to the court documents, the Chinese spy had been using various “aliases” to steal commercial technology from U.S. aviation companies since 2013. 

In addition, according to the prosecutors’ accusations, Xu tried to recruit expert employees of these U.S. companies, invited them to travel to China under the pretense that they were going to give lectures at universities, paid their travel expenses and thus established a relationship that allowed him to obtain information about the trade secrets of the companies for which they worked. 

One such case involved David Zheng, a GE Aviation engineer, through whom Xu was eventually arrested. In 2017 Zheng was invited by the spy to travel to China using the method described above.  

According to what was revealed by the Department of Justice, in the following months Xu told the engineer to provide him with information on design systems and technological processes of the company.

With David Zheng’s cooperation, Xu was eventually tracked down and caught in Belgium in 2018. In return the FBI agreed not to prosecute the engineer, who was fired from GE for agreeing to travel to China. 

Former federal prosecutor Ben Glassman, who had taken the case at the time the Chinese intelligence officer was extradited to Cincinnati in 2018, said, as quoted by the Springfield Sun:

“This is surely among the most significant victories by United States law enforcement against China’s naked ambition to acquire intellectual property by whatever means, legal or otherwise.”

Xu could face up to 25 years in prison plus a million-dollar fine according to the U.S. Department of Justice report.

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