Chinese spy convicted for attempting to steal US trade secrets

Yanjun Xu, a 41-year-old Chinese national, was the first Chinese intelligence officer ever to stand trial in US

A spy for China’s Ministry of State Security was convicted on Friday for attempting to steal trade secrets from General Electric and other U.S. aviation firms, the Justice Department announced.

Yanjun Xu, a 41-year-old Chinese national, was the first Chinese intelligence officer ever to be extradited to the United States to stand trial, according to federal officials. A federal jury found him guilty on all counts, including conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and attempting to steal trade secrets.

"This was state-sponsored economic espionage by the PRC designed to steal American technology and put Americans out of work," said Alan E. Kohler Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. "For those who doubt the real goals of the PRC, this should be a wakeup call; they are stealing American technology to benefit their economy and military."

WASHINGTON - MARCH 09: The seal of the F.B.I. hangs in the Flag Room at the bureau's headquaters March 9, 2007 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images / Getty Images)

Xu was identified as a deputy division director in the Chinese Ministry of State Security. According to court documents, Xu used various aliases dating back to 2013 to steal trade secrets from leading aviation companies based in the U.S. and abroad.

The jury found Xu attempted to steal information related to GE Aviation’s proprietary composite aircraft engine fan. The Justice Department said GE worked closely with the FBI during its investigation.

General Electric Co. (GE) logos are displayed on the outside of enclosed jet engine test tunnels at the GE Aviation Test Operations facility in Peebles, Ohio, U.S., on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. General Electric Co. (GE) is scheduled to release earning (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"This conviction of a card-carrying intelligence officer for economic espionage underscores that trade secret theft is integral to the PRC government’s plans to modernize its industries," said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. "But this conviction also serves notice that the United States will not sit by as China, or any other nation-state, attempts to steal instead of researching and developing key technology."

Federal prosecutors said Xu would attempt to recruit experts from aviation firms to travel to China, often under the pretense that they were invited to deliver a presentation at a university. The spy and his associates offered to cover travel expenses and pay a stipend for the trips.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter near The Bund, before U.S. trade delegation meet their Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China July 30, 2019. (REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo)

In March 2017, a GE Aviation employee was invited to present at a Chinese university and was introduced to Xu during the trip. 


In the subsequent months, Xu asked the employee to provide "system specification, design process" information, according to the DOJ’s release. He also attempted to set up a meeting with the employee in Europe and requested information from his personal computer.

Xu was arrested in Belgium in 2018 and extradited to the United States. He faces a sentence of up to 25 years in prison and more than $5 million in fines.