US court convicts Chinese intelligence agent of economic espionage

(FILES) This file combination of pictures created on June 8, 2021, shows US President Joe Biden (L) speaking at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC on June 2, 2021; and Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking on arrival at Macau's international airport on December 18, 2019. - President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are planning to meet by video link "before the end of the year," a senior US official said on October 6, 2021. (Photos by MANDEL NGAN and Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

A Chinese intelligence officer was convicted in US federal court Friday of economic espionage in an alleged state-backed effort to steal technology from US and French aerospace firms, the Justice Department said.

Xu Yanjun, an official in the Jiangsu province foreign intelligence office of the Ministry of State Security, was found guilty in the Cincinnati court on two counts of conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage, and three counts related to trade secret theft.

The economic espionage charges carry a maximum of 15 years in prison each and a fine of up to $5 million, while the other charges bring up to 10 years in prison each.

Xu was one of 11 Chinese nationals, including two intelligence officers, named in October 2018 indictments for involvement in a five-year scheme to steal technology from Cincinnati-based GE Aviation, one of the world’s leading aircraft engine manufacturers, and France’s Safran Group, which was working with GE on engine development.

“Xu attempted to steal technology related to GE Aviation’s exclusive composite aircraft engine fan, which no other company in the world has been able to duplicate, to benefit the Chinese state,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Xu, using various aliases, “identified experts who worked for the companies and recruited them to travel to China,” the statement added.

He was arrested in April 2018 in Belgium, where he had apparently been lured in a counter-intelligence operation — he had planned to secretly meet a GE employee on the trip.

He was extradited to the United States in October 2018 to face trial.

The 2018 indictments named 10 other accomplices in the operation, including the two Jiangsu security officials — who appear to have worked under Xu — six hackers, and two employees of the French company.

None of the 10 have been arrested.

The indictments detailed efforts to use malware and phishing techniques to hack into target computers and remove data on the engines and parts.

The Justice Department said at the time that a Chinese state-owned aerospace company had been trying to develop an engine like GE’s for use in China-made aircraft.

After Xu’s arrest, China said the United States was “making something out of thin air.”

© Agence France-Presse