The charges were announced on Wednesday and reveal the alleged intelligence officer as Yanjun Xu (aka Qu Hui, aka Zhang Hui), a deputy division director with the MSS Jiangsu State Security Department, Sixth Bureau.
This is the latest in a string of economic espionage cases involving Chinese nationals stealing information beneficial to Beijing-though an indictment of an intelligence officer within the Chinese Communist Party is rare.
"This case is not an isolated incident", Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said of Xu's alleged actions.
A senior USA justice department official said the case was "part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense".
"We can not tolerate a nation's stealing our firepower and the fruits of our brainpower".
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. It also said he made contact with experts working for the firms and recruited them to travel to China, often for the initial objective of delivering a university presentation and paying their costs and a stipend. According to the indictment, the Ministry of State Security officers worked to "protect and hide the true nature of the information they were seeking" and paid for the experts' travel, lodging and stipends.
Both indictments suggested USA counterintelligence officials had recruited informants in the scheme to help accumulate evidence against the two Chinese.
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Xu faces a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment for economic espionage charges and 10 years for charges pertaining to theft of trade secrets. Xu, who used multiple aliases, is a deputy division director within China's intelligence and security agency, the US alleges. "One of Xu's job duties was to obtain technical information, including trade secrets from aviation and aerospace companies in the United States and Europe". The indictment was unsealed Wednesday - the same day he appeared in federal court in Cincinnati. The U.S. and China do not have an extradition treaty, which is why U.S. agents lured Xu to Belgium before apprehending him. US law enforcement officials in recent years have faced criticism that indictments of foreign operatives are not likely to result in the defendants setting foot in a courtroom.
GE Aviation exhibited equipment at the Zhuhai Airshow in 2010.
"Innovation in aviation has been a hallmark of life and industry in the United States since the Wright brothers first designed gliders in Dayton more than a century ago", said U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Benjamin Glassman.
"U.S. aerospace companies invest decades of time and billions of dollars in research".
The Washington Post reported that he was lured to Belgium by United States federal law enforcement agents.
He has been charged with working to get aviation employees to inadvertently reveal trade secrets to the Chinese government.