US charges Chinese intelligence officers for jet engine data hack

More than a dozen companies were targeted by intelligence officers who conspired with hackers and company insiders.
More than a dozen companies were targeted by intelligence officers who conspired with hackers and company insiders.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Chinese intelligence officers conspired with hackers and company insiders to break into private companies' computer systems and steal information on a turbo fan engine used in commercial jetliners, according to a US indictment unsealed on Tuesday (Oct 30).

The indictment said at the time of the intrusions, a Chinese-state owned aerospace company was working to develop a comparable engine for use in aircraft manufactured in China and in other countries.

The 10 people charged conspired to steal sensitive data"that could be used by Chinese entities to build the same or similar engine without incurring substantial research and development expenses," the indictment released by the US Department of Justice said.

It said more than a dozen companies were targeted, but only Capstone Turbine Corp was identified by name.

Others were listed as a French aerospace manufacturer with an office in Suzhou, China, a United Kingdom aerospace company and a multinational conglomerate that produces commercial and consumer products and aerospace systems.

The indictment charges Zha Rong and Chai Meng along with other co-conspirators who worked for the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, a unit of the foreign intelligence arm of the Ministry of State Security.

It says their efforts to steal sensitive commercial aviation and other data took place from January 2010 through May 2015.

This marks the third major corporate espionage-related case involving Chinese intelligence officers brought by the Justice Department since last month.

In late September, a Chinese national who had also enlisted in the US Army Reserve was arrested in Chicago for working for Chinese intelligence to recruit engineers and scientists, including some who worked for US defence contractors.

Then earlier in October, the Justice Department also announced it had arrested a spy for China's Ministry of State Security on charges of economic espionage and attempting to steal trade secrets from several US aviation and aerospace companies.

In that matter, the FBI said the extradition of Chinese operative Xu Yanjun from Belgium was unprecedented, and the case highlighted the Chinese government's direct control over economic espionage in the United States.

John Demers, the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division, highlighted the pattern of the three cases in a public statement on Tuesday.

"This is just the beginning," he said. "Together with our federal partners, we will redouble our efforts to safeguard America's ingenuity and investment."