The Department of Justice announced a Chinese intelligence officer will be brought to the United States to face economic espionage charges, the first time such an extradition has taken place.
Yanjun Xu faces four charges of conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets, according to the indictment. DOJ officials said the indictment marks the first time a Chinese Ministry of State Security operative has been arrested and brought to the United States to face charges. He’s charged with working to get aviation employees to inadvertently reveal trade secrets to the Chinese government.
“This unprecedented extradition of a Chinese intelligence officer exposes the Chinese government’s direct oversight of economic espionage against the United States,” said Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, in a statement.
Xu was one of several Ministry of State Security officials who, starting in 2013, allegedly identified aviation industry experts at at least three companies, including Cincinnati-based GE Aviation, and invited them to China under the guise of speaking at universities for an idea exchange, according to the Justice Departmen complaint.
However, these presentations were purely for the benefit of the Chinese government, and often included highly technical discussions about a company’s signature material design and manufacturing technology. According to the indictment, the Ministry of State Security officers worked to “protect and conceal the true nature of the information they were seeking” and paid for the experts’ travel, lodging and stipends.
“Effectively Xu and his (Chinese Ministry of State Security) colleagues sought to groom experts to hand over trade secrets,” Ben Glassman, the US attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, told reporters at a news conference.
“China has made clear that it has a program where it is seeking to acquire leading technological information in this industry and several others,” he later added.
Glassman stressed that while it was apparent that Chinese officials were using insider recruitment as well as online hacking to further their interests, perpetrators could be brought to justice when private companies and the federal government worked together. GE Aviation cooperated with the FBI throughout the investigation, Glassman said.
“Companies should see that Chinese officials are seeking to acquire their intellectual property, not only through hacking, but also through the recruitment of insiders,” Glassman said. “Companies should also see that working together with federal law enforcement authorities, as in this case, those attempted thefts can be thwarted and foreign actors can be brought to trial for their actions.”
Xu made his initial appearance Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Cincinnati, Glassman said. Xu was arrested in Belgium in April and was extradited to the United States on Tuesday after losing his appeal. He faces up to 25 years’ imprisonment.
CNN’s Jessica Schneider and Jim Sciutto contributed to this report.