Chinese intelligence officers accused of stealing USA jet engine tech

Larry Hoffman
November 2, 2018

The new charges mark the third time since September that charges have been brought against Chinese intelligence officers for trying to steal USA intellectual property.

Federal prosecutors say Chinese intelligence officers and hackers working for them have been charged with commercial espionage that included trying to steal information on commercial jet engines.

The US Department of Justice said that the Chinese Ministry of State Security, through its unit in Jiangsu province, engineered the effort over five years to steal the technology behind a new turbofan engine for use in US and European commercial airliners.

The 10 people charged conspired to steal sensitive data "that could be used by Chinese entities to build the same or similar engine without incurring substantial research and development expenses", the indictment released by the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Prosecutors say members of the conspiracy hacked into a French aerospace company that was developing the engines with a USA company.

The Justice Department said those hacked included a French firm co-developing a turbofan jet engine with a U.S. company.

A spy working for China's Ministry of State Security was also arrested on charges of economic espionage and attempting to steal trade secrets from several USA aviation and aerospace companies.

Earlier this month, the DoJ announced that a JSSD intelligence officer has been extradited to OH on related charges and in September in IL, a US Army recruit was charged with working as an agent of a JSSD intelligence officer.

The former counsel for cyber investigations at the DoJ's national security division and current partner at the King & Spalding law firm Scott Ferber took notice of how intelligence officers were working with apparent private-sector hackers.

The US authorities have continued to step-up the pressure on China with the indictment of two intelligence officers, two insiders and six hackers, most of whom were allegedly involved in a conspiracy to steal aviation secrets.

"This is just the beginning". In the report only Los Angeles-based Capstone Turbine was mentioned by name.

"We will redouble our efforts to safeguard America's ingenuity and investment", he said. Chai Meng, who is also known as "Cobain", coordinated the hackers and the activity of two Chinese employees of the French company, who also were charged for their role in facilitating the technology theft, USA officials said.

John Brown, FBI special agent in charge of the San Diego field office, vowed that Chinese criminals would be held "accountable regardless of their attempts to hide their illicit activities and identities".

The Chinese also were able to co-opt company employees in conducting the cyber economic espionage. Both employees worked at the manufacturer's office in Suzhou, China and eventually planted the Sakula malware on a company laptop through a USB stick.

In November 2013, an intelligence officer told Tian Xi, a product manager for the French company: "I'll bring the (Trojan) horse (malware) to you tonight".

On Tuesday, the US Justice Department unsealed an indictment against ten Chinese suspects over the conspiracy, which occurred between at least January 2010 and May 2015.

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