Chinese intel officer extradited to US to face economic espionage charges

Chinese intel officer extradited to US to face economic espionage charges
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A Chinese intelligence officer has been extradited to the United States to face economic espionage charges, U.S. officials announced Wednesday.


The Justice Department said Yanjun Xu, an alleged operative for China’s Ministry of State Security, has been arrested and charged with conspiring to commit economic espionage and steal trade secrets from major U.S. aviation and aerospace firms, including GE Aviation, which is based just outside Cincinnati. 

The development represents a major feat for U.S. officials, who were able to apprehend a Chinese national alleged to be an active member of Beijing’s intelligence and security agency operating in China. 

It also comes as the Trump administration escalates its public criticism of China for what it views as unacceptable behavior by Beijing on several fronts, including military, economic and cyber. In a major public address last week, Vice President Pence accused China of waging a broad effort to influence U.S. domestic politics and steal intellectual property, including “cutting-edge” military plans.

“This case is not an isolated incident. It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement Wednesday. “We cannot tolerate a nation’s stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower. We will not tolerate a nation that reaps what it does not sow.” 

U.S. officials said Xu was arrested in Belgium on April 1 and extradited to the United States on Tuesday. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Ohio on April 4, but the indictment was not unsealed until Wednesday, pending his extradition. 

The indictment alleges that Xu, an unindicted co-conspirator operating in China identified as “CF” and others targeted GE Aviation and other companies in and outside the United States since at least December 2013 in order to steal sensitive trade secrets. This included identifying experts working for these firms and recruiting and paying for them to come to China, sometimes under the false pretenses of giving a presentation at a university. 

“In reality, the presentations were for the benefit of the Chinese government,” the indictment reads.

According to U.S. officials, Xu is a deputy division director in the sixth bureau of the security agency’s Jiangsu State Security Department. In that role, he was primarily responsible for stealing trade secrets and other technical information from U.S. and European companies in the aviation and aerospace industries. The indictment alleges that Xu sometimes conducted his activities under the aliases of “Qu Hui” or “Zhang Hui.”

Xu has been charged with conspiracy to commit economic espionage, conspiracy to commit trade secret theft, attempted economic espionage by theft or fraud and attempted theft of trade secrets by taking or deception. U.S. officials in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio are handling the case, with the help of the Justice Department's National Security Division. 

The charges unveiled Wednesday are likely to exacerbate U.S. tensions with China, already running high as a result of the administration’s actions against Beijing on trade. 

The Chinese Embassy did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.