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Chinese Intelligence Official Charged With Stealing U.S. Aviation Secrets

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A Chinese national who allegedly conspired to steal trade secrets from an Ohio aviation company has been extradited to the U.S., according to the Justice Department.

Xu Yanjun targeted U.S. and European aerospace companies on behalf of China’s Ministry of State Security, according to an indictment charging him with economic espionage and other crimes. Xu, who used multiple aliases, is a deputy division director within China’s intelligence and security agency, the U.S. alleges.

The charges come as the Trump administration takes a harder line on China, with Vice President Mike Pence last week challenging the country’s economic practices. The arrest of Xu and his extradition represent the first time the U.S. has been able to bring a Chinese intelligence officer to America to be prosecuted for economic espionage, said John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security. Xu was extradited from Belgium, where he was arrested on April 1.

One of the companies allegedly targeted by Xu was GE Aviation, a unit of General Electric Co. Demers said its assistance was crucial to the investigation.

Lawyers for Xu didn’t immediately respond to email messages seeking comment. An email seeking comment on the indictment from the Chinese Embassy wasn’t immediately returned.

Working With Conspirator

The indictment, filed in federal court in Cincinnati, lays out Xu’s alleged efforts to steal technology from an unidentified Ohio-based aviation company. Xu worked with a conspirator, unnamed in the indictment, who contacted an engineer of the firm last year and offered to pay for a trip to China so the employee could talk about his work in connection with an event sponsored by a science and technology association, according to prosecutors.

The employee traveled to China in June 2017 and gave a presentation at a public university in Nanjing, they said. The employee’s talk included details about engines that were designed and produced by his company. In reality, the employee, who was paid $3,500 by Xu for the trip, was revealing information to the Chinese government, according to prosecutors.

“These charges are significant,” Demers told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “The threat of insiders in companies being either pressured or co-opted by Chinese intelligence officials and others is very real.”

Xu, who was using the alias Qu Hui, continued to court the employee and received additional information including proprietary data involving the company’s fan blades, according to prosecutors. The employee, under Xu’s directions, downloaded company materials and traveled to Belgium in April to pass that data to Xu, the indictment alleges.

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