The Department of Justice announced the arrest of Chinese national, Shuren Qin, for the acquisition and export of  controlled technologies associated with U.S. Navy’s research into anti-submarine technology.

Qin faces multiple charges including those related with his legal status in the United States (he gained lawful permanent residence status in 2014) and his subterfuge with respect to his work and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLA-N). The Department of Justice announcement specifically calls out Northwestern Polytechnical University (NWPU), a Chinese military research institute associated with the PLA-N.

Qin allegedly acquired and exported approximately 78 hydrophones to China. These hydrophones were acquired by providing false information on who the intended end-user was to the provider. Qin, a US-person by virtue of his lawful permanent residence, indicated that the hydrophones were for use by a U.S. entity.

In addition to the hydrophones, Qin harvested a plethora of anti-submarine technologies on behalf of China. These items included, “remotely-operated side scan sonar systems, unmanned underwater vehicles, unmanned surface vehicles, and robotic boats.” All items which can be used by the PLA-N to counter U.S. advances in submarine technology. The DOJ noted, “These items have military applications and can be used for weapon delivery systems, anti-submarine warfare, mine counter-measures as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities.”

This arrest comes shortly after the separate and unrelated hack of the U.S. defense contractor associated with the U.S. Navy’s submarine program, “Sea Dragon.” The contractor reportedly lost approximately 614 gigabytes of material to the Chinese.

China’s One-Two-Espionage Punch

We are seeing the continued multi-prong approach  by China against the U.S. defense sector. They are using  regular procurement channels and falsifying end-users, as was the case with Qin. They are also using cyber hacking as a means to gain access to poorly configured data stores, as was the case with the defense contractor who lost the Sea Dragon data. And their Human Intelligence activity targeting U.S. Navy and those with access to U.S. intelligence is not showing any signs of abatement.

Defense contractors, specifically, the Facility Security Officers in charge of the insider threat and counterintelligence programs, need to double down on the protection of controlled technologies. While the Chinese activities in the South China Sea are seemingly far-off and may not be on the FSO’s radar, Chinese acquisition of U.S. technologies will be of direct utility as China pushes their agenda into these contested islands.

No longer is it a question of, “Are the Chinese interested in our technology?”

They have removed all doubt, “The Chinese are interested in your technology!”

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of