The Department of Justice recently announced they had levied criminal charges in five cases on four individuals in five different U.S. Attorney’s offices as a result of the work of the “recently launched multi-agency Disruptive Technology Strike Force (DTSF).” Let’s look into what the task force is and what its about and then we’ll look at the first “pinned” successes attributed to the DTSF.
What is the Disruptive Technology Strike Force?
The DTSF, per the DOJ announcement of February 2023, is as noted supra, a multi-agency task force operating under the leadership of the DOJ’s National Security Division and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). Experts from throughout government will be brought together to work as one and will include personnel from the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). In addition, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in 12 metro areas (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City (Southern and Eastern Districts of New York), San Jose, California, Phoenix, Portland, Oregon, and the Washington, D.C. region (District of Columbia and the Eastern District of Virginia)) will provide oversight and support.
The purpose? The DOJ tells us, “To target illicit actors, strengthen supply chains and protect critical technological assets from being acquired or used by nation-state adversaries.”
Sounds a lot like, good, old fashion, counterintelligence work. Get out ahead of the adversary who is targeting you, penetrate their own decision-making train, and neutralize them at every opportunity to protect the United States.
Who are the adversaries?
If you’re wondering who the adversaries are, it maps to our 2023 key espionage prophecy piece in January. You’ll recognize the countries, China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea as the key nation state adversaries. You will also recognize the targets: supply chains, technology, and infrastructure.
Reasons for a strike force and Five Cases from the DTSF
Think of it as an all-star team brought together, relieved of other responsibilities, to focus on this specific counterintelligence mission. The goal, no doubt, is to break down the counterintelligence and counterespionage silos within the intelligence and law enforcement communities.
Here are five cases the DTSF brought forward.
1. Xiangjiang Qiao, Southern District of New York
Qiao stands accused of trying to smuggled controlled technologies which are used in the nose tips of intercontinental ballistic missiles to Iran. Qiao’s employer, China-based company Sinotech Dalian Carbon and Graphite Manufacturing Corporation (Sinotech Dalian) has been identified as being involved in the proliferation of WMD’s and is on the U.S. sanctions list since 2014.
2. Weibo Wang, Northern District of California
According to a recently unsealed indictment Wiebao Wang is accused of taking Apple’s intellectual property associated with autonomous systems. Wang was hired by Apple in March 2016. In April 2017 he departed and, on his way, out, in classic illicit insider behavior he purloined sensitive data. On June 27, 2018, Wang’s apartment in Mountain View, CA was searched by the FBI and large quantities of data taken from Apple was discovered. Wang fled to China that evening.
3. Liming Li, Central District of California
Li was arrested on May 6 when he arrived at Ontario International Airport following a trip to Taiwan. Li stands accused of stealing the trade secrets from two of his former employers and using the information to build a company of his own in China. The technology stolen can be used in both submarine and aircraft manufacturing. The FBI searched his home in 2020 and found “millions of files belonging to Company 1 and Company 2 and containing the source code for those companies’ proprietary software.”
4. Oleg Sergeyevich Pasulya and Vasilii Sergeyevich Besedin, District of Arizona
On May 11, two Russian nationals, Pasulya and Besedin were arrested for attempting to send aircraft parts to Russian airline companies. The two used the classic daisy chain of intermediary companies and bank accounts to obfuscate who their end customers were and who was paying the duo.
5. Dr. Nikolaos “Nikos” Bogonikolos, Eastern District of New York
Dr. Bogonikolos was arrested on May 9 in Paris, France and awaits extradition to the United States. The criminal complaint note how he ostensibly operated as a NATO contractor, he was, as noted by U.S. Attorney Breon Peace, “double dealing, helping to fuel Russia’s war effort and their development of next generation weapons.” The NATO nexus is serious, as his company, ARATOS was a “finalist in the NATO Innovation Challenge for space applications in 2021 for a proposal involving the use of artificial intelligence and blockchain technology for satellites and spacecraft.” What he appears to be in realty is a smuggler, who worked for the Russian intelligence services.
Thoughts for the FSO managing counterintelligence programs
First and foremost, as an FSO, you should understand that your local FBI contact now has a task force to which they may send up requests for comment or information involving any anomalous activities or contacts from foreign nationals involving their personnel. Secondly, the five cases presented by the DOJ as exemplary of the work of the DTSF should be culled, highlighted, and put within the CI reading library. Within each of the complaints and indictments are nuggets of gold which highlight modus operandi used. Additionally, FSO should revisit the insider risk management program, again using the nuggets from within the above corpus, as in each instance the illicit activities of those accused of stealing IP were discovered long after they had exited – not really a success story for keeping the company secrets secret using insider risk management.