The FBI has arrested four people on charges of spying for Beijing on the space shuttle and other defence projects as America steps up its efforts catch Chinese agents attempting to steal technology secrets.
Mike McConnell, the US Director of National Intelligence, said China's intelligence agencies were "among the most aggressive in collecting against sensitive and protected US systems, facilities and development projects, and their efforts are approaching Cold War levels".
The US has revealed a steady flow of Chinese-related espionage cases in recent years, including accusations against a prominent Asian-American bookshop owner and Republican fundraiser. Chinese espionage has been described as the leading threat to the security of American technology by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
A Defence Department analyst, Gregg Bergersen, 51, and a former engineer for Boeing, Dongfan "Greg" Chung, 72, were among those charged yesterday in two separate espionage cases involving the Chinese government, one of them stretching back 18 years. Two Chinese immigrants – Tai Shen Kuo, 58, and Yu Xin Kang – were also arrested after an FBI raid in New Orleans connected with the allegations against the Boeing employee. There is no link between Mr Bergersen and Mr Chung – one lived in a Washington suburb and the other in Los Angeles – and it was just a coincidence that charges were brought against them on the same day.
In the case involving Mr Bergersen, secrets were apparently exchanged for cash in busy tourist destinations such as Las Vegas and Charleston, South Carolina. The case against Mr Chung, the former Boeing employee, involves space shuttle secrets as well as details of the C-17 military transport aircraft and the Delta IV rocket.
According to the prosecution, Mr Bergersen passed classified information about US military sales to Taiwan and the space shuttle to Mr Kuo, a New Orleans businessman. Mr Kang is alleged to have acted as an intermediary between Mr Kuo and a Chinese official.
The cases showed "that foreign spying remains a serious threat in the post-Cold War world", said Kenneth Wainstein, the assistant attorney-general.
"It has all the elements of a classic espionage operation," he said of the case involving the Defence Department official, "a foreign government focused on accessing our military secrets; foreign operatives who effectively use stealth and guile to gain that access; and an American government official who is willing to betray."
Mr Kuo and Mr Bergersen appeared in court in Arlington, Virginia, yesterday. Mr Chung was held in Los Angeles yesterday on charges of working as an agent of the Beijing administration and stealing space shuttle secrets.
Mr Chung, who is an American citizen, was indicted on espionage and conspiracy charges. The FBI had been investigating him for nearly a year.
According to court documents, Chinese officials asked him to steal secrets about US aviation projects, including the space shuttle and various military and civilian aircraft.
Mr Chung responded in a letter that he wanted to "contribute to the motherland", it is alleged.
Over the course of 18 years, he travelled to China many times to give lectures about the shuttle. There, he allegedly met Chinese government officials to discuss how to pass on secret US data.
Mr Chung had security clearance from his days working for Rockwell International from 1973 until 1996, when the company's defence and space division was acquired by Boeing. He left Boeing in 2006.Reuse content