A Chinese intelligence officer has been convicted by a US jury of plotting to steal secrets from aviation companies, according to the US justice department.

LEAP engines for jetliners at a GE Aviation factory - the firm was one of those targeted by Xu Yanjun for trade secrets

Xu Yanjun was found guilty of five counts relating to economic espionage and trade secret theft. 

He faces up to 60 years in prison and fines of more than $5m (£3.7m).

Xu was first arrested in Belgium in 2018 and is possibly the first Chinese operative to be extradited to the US for trial. 

Chinese authorities have not commented publicly on Friday's verdict. Beijing has previously dismissed the accusations, saying there was no basis to the charges.

According to a statement by the US justice department, Xu is a senior member of the Jiangsu branch of China's Ministry of State Security - an agency responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence and internal security.

 

 
  • The spying game: China's global network

Xu was accused of targeting employees at several companies based in the US, among other countries since at least 2013.

In one instance, he arranged for a GE Aviation employee to travel to China in 2017 to give a presentation at a university - paying for their travel expenses and a stipend.

The following year, Xu asked the expert for "system specification, design process" information. With co-operation from the company - which was working with the FBI - the employee emailed Xu a two-page document labelled as having sensitive information.

Xu later asked the employee to send a copy of the file directory for his work-issued computer.

He also tried to arrange to meet the employee in Belgium, leading to his eventual arrest.

"For those who doubt the real goals of [China], this should be a wakeup call," said FBI Assistant Director Alan Kohler. "They are stealing American technology to benefit their economy and military."

 

The charges come at a time of raised tension between the two countries - with China recently testing a new form of hypersonic missile, and US President Joe Biden pledging to protect Taiwan from any Chinese military incursion.

According to CNN, CIA Director Bill Burns described China as the greatest technological threat to the US. Last month he said the spy agency would boost its efforts towards China.

Source: BBC.com