U.S. intelligence officials celebrated the conviction of the first Chinese spy to be extradited and tried on American soil: Xu Yanjun, a senior official with China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS). Said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen: “This conviction of a card-carrying intelligence officer for economic espionage underscores that trade secret theft is integral to [China’s] plans.… With the support of our allies we will continue to investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable those who try to take the fruits of American ingenuity illegally.”
Acting U.S. Attorney Vipal Patel added:
The jury, by its guilty verdict … held Xu accountable for his classic spy techniques.
Xu conspired to commit economic espionage on behalf of the Chinese government….
This office will continue to seek to protect American innovation and hold accountable those who attempt to steal our nation’s science and technology.
In making its announcement, the Department of Justice explained those “classic spy techniques”:
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, beginning in at least December 2013, Xu used multiple aliases to target specific companies in the United States and abroad that are recognized as leaders in the field of aviation.
He identified experts who worked for the companies and [invited] them to travel to China, often initially under the guise that they were traveling to give a presentation at a university. Xu and others paid the experts stipends on top of covering travel costs.
According to today’s conviction, Xu attempted to steal technology related to GE Aviation’s exclusive composite aircraft engine fan — which no other company in the world has been able to duplicate — to benefit the Chinese state.
In March 2017, a GE Aviation employee in Cincinnati, Ohio, was solicited to give a report at a university in China. The employee traveled to China two months later to present at the university and was introduced to Xu. Xu and others paid the employee’s travel expenses and a stipend.
In January 2018, Xu requested “system specification, design process” information from the employee and — with the cooperation of the company, who was [now] working with the FBI — the employee emailed a two-page document from the company that included a label that warned about the disclosure of proprietary information.
In February 2018, Xu began discussing with the employee the possibility of meeting in Europe during one of the employee’s business trips and asked the employee to send a copy of the file directory for his company-issued computer.
Xu traveled to Belgium on April 1, 2018, to meet with the employee and was arrested at that time.
The mistake Xu made was agreeing to meet the company employee/FBI informant outside of China where he could be extradited to the United States for prosecution. He was convicted on five counts of espionage and is in jail awaiting sentencing. He could get up 50 years.
James Olsen, former chief of counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and author of To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence, celebrated the conviction but admitted that the CIA and other agencies “have been relatively ineffective [in] stopping the theft of technology and research and development information” by Chinese spies.
Olsen expects retaliation by the Chinese, who will want to get Xu back:
An American businessman or American journalist in China will be framed. [The regime will] fabricate a case against this person and rush him through a trial.
This will give the Chinese “trade bait.” Olsen added, “They’re probably looking at potential targets right now.”
Why would the Chinese want Xu back? Perhaps because of his high position in the Chinese spy apparatus, he could expose the vast network of spies that China has successfully inserted into the United States. As Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said, “This case is not an isolated incident. It is part of an overall economic policy of developing China at American expense.”
Michael Pillsbury, in his 2016 book The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower, exposes China’s plan to become the world’s hegemon by 2050. Part of that plan involves stealing technology from its arch-enemy, the United States.
Although Xu’s strategy of “invitation/flattery/bribery/blackmail” was “classic,” the Chinese regime also uses numerous other methods to obtain what it needs to overtake America and relegate her to second-class status in the world. It exploits commercial entities who want access to the Chinese market by demanding they give up essential secrets in order to do so. It has created a vast network of scientific, academic, and business contacts who are willing to sell out America for a price. It uses cyber-spying to penetrate the computer networks of U.S. businesses and government agencies. It uses its vast wealth to buy up American companies that have the technology Chinese manufacturers need and are unable to create themselves.
They use sex. Consider briefly the case of the Chinese spy Fang Fang, (aka Christine Fang), who pawned herself off as a student in California. As Wikipedia put it: “[Fang Fang has] since at least 2012 been cultivating contacts with California politicians who the Chinese government believed had promising futures in politics.” She slept with at least two mayors and connected with U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell, helping bundle campaign contributions for him in 2014, and inserting a Chinese spy into his office staff.
In July 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray called China the “greatest long-term threat” to the United States, and that “the FBI is now opening a new China-related counterintelligence case every 10 hours.” Of the nearly 5,000 active counterintelligence cases presently open, half of them are related to China.
Xu’s failed attempt to secure proprietary information from GE Aviation revealed that his role in the grand Chinese scheme to become the world hegemon was that of just a bit player. But his conviction reveals the level of infiltration China has already achieved in working toward its goal.