Chinese engineer Ji Chaoqun jailed for spying in US

Department of Justice seal

A Chinese engineer has been jailed for eight years for spying in the US, in a case linked to Chinese efforts to steal aviation trade secrets.

Ji Chaoqun, 31, had identified scientists and engineers for possible recruitment, according to the US Department of Justice.

He also enlisted in the US Army Reserves and lied to recruiters.

US authorities said Ji worked under the direction of a key Chinese state intelligence unit.

Last September he was convicted for acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the US attorney-general – a charge used in espionage cases – and of making false statements to the US Army.

Ji had arrived in the US on a student visa a decade ago, according to a Justice Department statement.

He was accused of supplying information to the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security (JSSD) about eight individuals for possible recruitment.

The individuals are all naturalised US citizens who were originally from China or Taiwan, with some working as US defence contractors.

Ji also enlisted in the US Army Reserves in 2016 under a programme that recruits foreign nationals with skills considered vital to national interest. He had lied in his application and in an interview that he had not had contact with a foreign government within the past seven years, said US officials.

Ji was eventually arrested in September 2018 after he met with an undercover US law enforcement agent who posed as a representative of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).

During those meetings, Ji had explained that with his military identification he could visit and take photos of aircraft carriers. He added that once he obtained his US citizenship and security clearance, he would seek a job at the CIA, FBI or Nasa.

Ji intended to perform cybersecurity work at one of those agencies so that he would have access to all their databases, including ones that contain scientific research, according to US officials.

US authorities said Ji had received his orders from Xu Yanjun, a prominent MSS official who became the first ever Chinese intelligence officer extradited to the US for trial.

Last year Xu was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for plotting to steal trade secrets from US aviation and aerospace companies, including General Electric.

Earlier this month, former General Electric employee Zheng Xiaoqing was given a two-year sentence in the US for passing confidential information from his employers to the Chinese government.

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