US arrests Chinese national on spying charge

The Chinese national was allegedly tasked with providing Chinese intelligence with biographical information about eight American citizens.
The Chinese national was allegedly tasked with providing Chinese intelligence with biographical information about eight American citizens.PHOTO: REUTERS

CHICAGO (AFP) - A Chinese national who came to the United States on a student visa was arrested on Tuesday (Sept 25) in Chicago and accused of helping Beijing attempt to recruit American scientists and engineers.

Ji Chaoqun was allegedly tasked with providing Chinese intelligence with biographical information about eight American citizens - some of whom were US defence contractors.

The 27-year-old, who first arrived in Chicago in 2013 to study electrical engineering on a student visa, was charged with one count of knowingly acting as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the US Attorney-General.

According to a court affidavit, Ji was working at the direction of a "high-level intelligence officer" in China's Ministry of State Security, which "handles civilian intelligence collection and is responsible for counter-intelligence and foreign intelligence, as well as political security".

All eight of the people Ji allegedly researched were naturalised American citizens who were born in Taiwan or China, according to the authorities. The targets either currently work or were recently retired from a career in the science and technology industry.

An affidavit filed in federal court by an FBI investigator specialising in espionage, claims that among the people targeted was an engineer at one of "the world's top aircraft engine suppliers for both commercial and military aircraft". After one of Ji's handlers was arrested, he met US undercover agents in April and May, and admitted to his work, which included collecting background checks, the affidavit said.

He allegedly told the undercover agents: "They just wanted me to purchase some documents on their behalf. Their reason was just because it was inconvenient for them to make payments from China."

Ji also enlisted in the US Army Reserves, according to the US Attorney's office, but failed to disclose his foreign contacts to the military.