A Chinese national on Wednesday pleaded guilty to participating in a years-long conspiracy to hack into the computer networks of major U.S. defense contractors, steal sensitive military information and send the stolen data to China.
Su Bin, a China-based businessman who worked in aviation and aerospace, stole data relating to the C-17 strategic transport aircraft and certain military fighter jets, according to a Justice Department release.
As part of the conspiracy, Su would email hackers with instructions regarding what individuals, companies and technologies to target. One of the co-conspirators would then email Su folders showing the data he or she was able to access, and Su would identify which files the hacker should try to steal.
Su would then translate the stolen data from English to Chinese, as well as produce reports about the value of the data.
The guilty plea comes as officials are grappling with whether a September anti-hacking pledge between the U.S. and China has done anything to prevent intellectual property theft. While the White House has taken a “wait and see” approach to give Beijing time to dismantle its extensive hacking apparatus, some lawmakers are getting impatient.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers last month that the Obama administration still can’t assess whether China is adhering to its pledge to stop hacking private American companies.
“I think the jury’s out,” Clapper said in a rare open House Intelligence Committee hearing.
“We have seen some reduction, but I don’t think we’re in a position to say at this point whether they’re in strict compliance,” he added.
Su was arrested in Canada in July 2014 and was ultimately conveyed to the U.S. in February of this year. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross loss resulting from the offense, whichever is greatest. Sentencing is scheduled for July 13.