A Chinese national living in California has been jailed over a scheme to smuggle sensitive space and military communications technology to China.
Si Chen was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison Monday, after she pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which restricts the export of certain goods to foreign nations, according to a Department of Justice statement.
Chen, a 33-year-old resident of Pomona, a suburb of Los Angeles, was arrested in May 2017 and has been in custody since. She also pleaded guilty to money laundering and using a forged passport.
According to prosecutors, between 2013 and 2015 Chen purchased and smuggled numerous sensitive items to China without the proper export license, including components used in military communications jammers and devices used for space communications.
“This defendant knowingly participated in a plot to secretly send items with military applications to China,” US Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.
“The smuggled items could be used in a number of damaging ways, including in equipment that could jam our satellite communications. We will aggressively target all persons who provide foreign agents with technology in violation of US law.”
Joseph Macias, a Homeland Security agent who worked on the case, added that the “export of sensitive technology items to China or anywhere else in the world is tightly regulated for good reason.”
“One of HSI’s top enforcement priorities is preventing US military products and sensitive technology from falling into the hands of those who might seek to harm America or its interests,” he said.
Chen went by several aliases, prosecutors said, including “Chunping Ji,” for which she acquired a forged passport and rented an office in Pomona to take delivery of the export-controlled items. From Pomona, the goods were shipped to Hong Kong and then on to China.
Court documents mention at least three unindicted co-conspirators who worked with Chen to smuggle the items to Hong Kong.
Chen’s case comes a week after another Chinese national was arrested in the US. Ji Chaoqun is accused of acting as an “illegal agent” at the direction of a “high-level intelligence officer” of a provincial department of the Ministry of State Security, China’s top espionage agency.
According to the complaint against Ji, he was tasked with identifying individuals for potential recruitment as Chinese spies, some of whom were working for US defense contractors.
A student of electrical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Ji also enlisted in the US Army Reserves under a program in which foreign nationals can be recruited if their skills are considered “vital to the national interest.”
The arrest comes a day after CIA boss Gina Haspel referenced China when she said her agency would focus more on nation state rivals after over a decade of counter-terrorism dominating its goals.
China is “working to diminish US influence in order to advance their own goals,” Haspel said in a speech at the University of Louisville.
Tensions between the US and China are ramping up amid an escalating trade war between the two nations and disagreements over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
On Sunday, a US Navy ship had an “unsafe” interaction with a Chinese vessel during a freedom of navigation operation near the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, causing the US ship to maneuver “to prevent a collision,” according to US defense officials.