With China’s recent July 2020 launch of its Tianwen-1 space craft to Mars and the concomitant failure of their Kuaizhou-11 (KZ-11) rocket China’s space program is garnering global attention as it leads the world in space launches in 2020.  The attention may not be the type of attention the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had anticipated.

NASA research theft

With the indictment of Simon Saw-Teong Ang (AKA Hong Sizhong), NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and the DoD learned in late July 2020  that U.S. funded research was being shared with China. Ang, a professor and researcher at the University of Arkansas since 1988, served as director of the High Density Electronics Center (HiDEC) until May 2020.

Ang was yet another of the many academics who were successfully recruited by China via their talent programs. The indictment indicates Ang was providing U.S. research to China at least as far back as 2013, and potentially longer. In 2016, China quietly selected Ang as a “National Distinguished Expert.” Additionally, Ang had his hand in at least three Chinese technology companies, each capitalizing on Ang’s technological know-how, largely fleeced from the research he was conducting at the University of Arkansas under U.S. Government grants.

Go to Court With What You can Convict

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said,  “Mr. Ang is alleged to have demonstrated neither when he failed to disclose his financial and other ties to companies and institutions in China to the University of Arkansas and to U.S. government agencies, despite an obligation to do so.  This is a hallmark of the China’s targeting of research and academic collaborations within the United States in order to obtain U.S. technology illegally. The Department of Justice will continue to work with colleges and universities to protect U.S. research and development from exploitation by foreign powers and will prosecute those who defraud the U.S. Government.”

As highlighted by the prosecution of Al Capone in 1931, you take the criminal to court with what you can convict, even though you know other crimes were committed. The Department of Justice has done that with Ang. They are charging him with wire fraud, for accepting payments from NASA and the U.S. Air Force without disclosing his Chinese affiliations.

China’s Consistent Intellectual Property Theft Theme

Ang was not the only source for China’s aerospace program.

Remember the case of Ji Chaoqun, who was arrested in 2018? Ji, employed by a Chicago aerospace company, was also a member of the U.S. Army via the MAVNI program. He had entered the armed forces in exchange for permanent residence. Ji served to spot and assess individuals on behalf of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) efforts.

Then there was the case of the ten Chinese MSS intelligence officers largely focused on the aerospace industry who were indicted by the DOJ for attempting to recruit sources to penetrate U.S. companies, specifically defense contractors.

And finally the arrest and extradition to the United States of Chinese MSS deputy division director Yanjun Xu for targeting GE Aerospace in Ohio.

Tip of the Iceberg?

Every counterintelligence professional ponders, that while the above details the neutralization and prosecution of a number of individuals who have been assisting China in purloining U.S. aerospace technology, this may just be the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

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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 securelytravel.com