Two more Chinese military intelligence officers have been charged with trying to steal jet-engine technology from Western companies, according to a U.S. indictment unsealed Tuesday.
It’s the third significant corporate espionage indictment brought by the U.S. against Chinese intel officers in recent weeks, as Washington ratchets up the pressure on Beijing to address what Vice President Mike Pence recently called the “wholesale theft of American technology.”
The indictment said intelligence officers Zha Rong and Chai Meng conspired with six other co-defendants at the foreign intelligence arm of China’s Ministry of State Security to hack companies in an attempt to steal turbofan engine technology used in commercial jets.
Prosecutors said that the hacks took place between 2010 and 2015, as a Chinese state-owned aerospace company was trying to develop its own version of the technology to replace the foreign engines Chinese-made jets currently rely on.
The indictment said the hackers used the technique known as spear-phishing to target a French aerospace company that was developing the engine along with a U.S. firm. It said Chinese intelligence also directed two Chinese staff at the firm to install malware on the company’s computer system.
In total, prosecutors said, the alleged conspirators targeted 13 companies, including two in the U.K. Only one company, California-based Capstone Turbine, was named.
None of the defendants named in the indictment on Tuesday were in custody, and Washington doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Beijing.
“This action is yet another example of criminal efforts by the MSS to facilitate the theft of private data for China's commercial gain,” U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said in a statement.
“The concerted effort to steal, rather than simply purchase, commercially available products should offend every company that invests talent, energy, and shareholder money into the development of products.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang dismissed the charges Wednesday as “sheer fiction and completely fabricated.”
It’s only the latest U.S. indictment to charge Chinese intelligence officials with corporate espionage. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice charged Chinese intelligence officer Yanjun Xu with attempting to steal sensitive commercial information from American aviation and aerospace companies, by luring aerospace workers to China on the pretext of speaking at universities, where they would be pressured for secrets. Xu became the first accused Chinese spy to be extradited to the U.S. after he himself was lured to Belgium, then passed on to U.S. authorities.
And in September, a Chinese national and member of the U.S. Army Reserve was arrested in Chicago for working to recruit engineers and scientists, including defense contractor employees, on behalf of Chinese intelligence.
Cover: A jet plane of China Eastern Airlines takes off at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, 26 May 2018. (Imaginechina via AP Images)