A Chinese man who entered the United States to study electrical engineering was found guilty of secretly providing information on possible recruitment targets to a Chinese espionage unit, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
Ji Chaoqun, 31, was convicted Monday of illegally acting as an agent of a foreign government and of making false statements after a two-week trial in Chicago.
He faces up to 10 years in prison for the illegal agent charge, which is sometimes referred to as “espionage lite” in cases that might involve spying by people not directly employed by foreign intelligence agencies.
Ji came to the US on a student visa in 2013 and later enlisted in the army reserves.
He was arrested in September 2018 on charges that he had supplied Chinese intelligence with biographical information about eight people, all naturalized American citizens originally from China or Taiwan, and some of whom were US defense contractors.
According to the Justice Department, Ji did so at the direction of a “high-level intelligence officer” in the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, a Chinese intelligence unit frequently involved in US activities.
Ji’s case was apparently linked to Chinese efforts over several years to steal trade secrets from Ohio-based GE Aviation — one of the world’s leading aircraft engine manufacturers — and other aviation companies, including US military suppliers.
Last year a key figure in that effort, Xu Yanjun of the Jiangsu state security unit, was convicted in US federal court of economic espionage and attempted theft of trade secrets.
Xu faces up to 15 years in prison on the espionage charge and 10 years for the trade secrets theft. He will be sentenced on November 15.