CINCINNATI – Prosecutors on Tuesday linked Chinese spy master Yanjun Xu to other spy cases, trying to persuade a jury that he was part of a high-profile plot to attack airlines around the world and steal their trade secrets.
Frédéric Hascoet, project manager for French aviation company Safran, said his laptop was infected with malware during a visit to China in January 2014. He went there to oversee a joint venture between Safran and a Chinese company to assemble jet engine parts. .
“The IT department said I had a virus and they took my laptop. They had to replace the hard drive, ”Hascoet said, using a French interpreter.
A federal grand jury in Cincinnati indicted Xu in 2018 on charges of conspiracy and attempted economic espionage and theft of trade secrets from Evendale-based GE Aviation. Prosecutors say China is desperate to duplicate GE’s highly successful gas turbine engine.
But prosecutors say Xu is part of a larger plot that dates back to at least 2013 and involves Safran and several other airlines.
Xu is not specifically named or charged by a Southern District of California grand jury in the malware attack on Safran. But prosecutors said in a recent court file that Xu was still part of this conspiracy.
“The indictment that replaces him refers to some of Xu’s actions to obtain technical and aeronautical information from Safran, including the fact that he ordered a Safran employee to implant malware into the network of the business… of the California indictment – is relevant here, ”Assistant US Attorney Tim Mangan wrote in a recent motion.
This is the first of several alleged acts of espionage that prosecutors are expected to show the jury over the next few weeks, to establish Xu as a master spy who has attempted to recruit airline workers to share information.
It will be up to the jury to decide whether these actions constitute a legitimate sharing of knowledge and expertise, or an illegal theft of trade secrets.
Xu is the first Chinese intelligence agent to be extradited to the United States for trial. His trial began before U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black on October 18 and is expected to last a month.
Xu, also known as Qu Hui and Zhang Hui, is a deputy division director at China’s Ministry of State Security, which is China’s intelligence agency.
Agents arrested Xu in Belgium in April 2018 and extradited him to the United States, where a federal grand jury charged him with conspiracy and attempted economic espionage and theft of trade secrets.
“In an airplane, weight is king… you have to have the lightest plane possible,” testified Rizwan Ramakdawala, head of the manned aircraft division at the US Defense Technology Security Administration.
No one else in the world except GE can make jet engine fan blades from lightweight and durable composite material, which makes the technology highly sought after. China has been trying to duplicate this technology since at least 2015, Ramakdawala testified.
Prosecutors on Tuesday called a former Boeing IT worker as their last witness, asking him to describe the emails he received from Xu asking him to share information during his trips to China.
“We believe that your information is compatible with the need of Chinese technology … we would like to invite you for an exchange the next time you come back to China,” according to an email Xu sent to the former Boeing Sun employee. Li in 2016.
Li, who lives in Washington, said he visits his father in China once a year. Xu offered to pay his travel expenses if he shared information about Boeing with him, but Li said he declined the offer.
“Boeing being an international defense company, it must have sufficient experience for us to refer to it. I think there is a lot of room for an exchange, even in your area of expertise, ”Xu wrote in a 2015 email to Li.