Chinese engineer sentenced to 8 years in US prison for treason
A former student in Chicago was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday for spying for the Chinese government by gathering information about engineers and scientists in the United States.
Ji Chaoqun, a Chinese national who came to the US to study electrical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2013 and later enlisted in the US Army Reserves, was arrested in 2018.
The 31-year-old was convicted last September of illegally working as an agent of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) and of making a material false statement to the US Army.
According to the Department of Justice, Ji was asked to provide biographical information to an intelligence officer about individuals for recruitment as Chinese spies. Among the individuals were Chinese nationals working as engineers and scientists in the US, some of them working for American defense contractors.
Ji’s betrayal was part of an effort by Chinese intelligence to gain access to advanced air-to-air and satellite technologies being developed by US companies, the Justice Department said in a statement.
In 2016, a year after graduating, Ji joined the US Army Reserves under a program in which foreign nationals can be recruited if their skills are deemed “critical to the national interest”.
In his application to enter the program, Ji falsely claimed that he had had no contact with a foreign government in the past seven years. He also failed to disclose his friendship and connections with Chinese intelligence officials in a subsequent interview with a US Army official, according to the Justice Department.
In 2018, Ji had several meetings with an undercover US law enforcement agent posing as a representative of China’s MSS. During these meetings, Ji said he could visit and photograph the “Roosevelt-class” aircraft carriers. Ji also explained that once he gets US citizenship and security clearance through the Army Reserves program, he would seek employment at the CIA, FBI or NASA, the Justice Department said, citing testimony at the trial. .
Ji planned to do cybersecurity work at one of those organizations so he could have access to databases, including those that contained scientific research, the Justice Department said in the statement.
Ji worked under the supervision of Xu Yanjun, deputy director of the Jiangsu provincial branch of the MMS, the statement said.
Xu, a career intelligence officer, was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year for conspiring to steal trade secrets from several US aviation and aerospace companies. Xu was also the first Chinese spy to be extradited to the US for trial, having been detained in Belgium in 2018 following an FBI investigation.