Cyber Crime

Chinese professor on sensitive projects in US jailed for espionage

Hao Zhang also faced charges related to stealing trade secrets and sharing them with the Chinese military and the government.

Hao Zhang, a university professor from China, has been convicted of trade secret theft and economic espionage after a seven-year-long trial. He will be spending 18-months in jail for stealing IP from two US firms.

Zhang is part of a group of six Chinese nationals, all of whom were charged in 2015 for stealing trade secrets and economic espionage. Five accused are still not arrested, and probably are hiding in China.  Zhang, however, decided to re-enter the US and was immediately arrested.  

According to the Department of Justice’s press release, the group worked for state-backed Tianjin University and several other organizations since 2006-07 while residing in the US for research purposes.

A crackdown against Chinese nationals stealing intellectual property from American organizations was started by former US President Barack Obama in 2015 and continued under the Trump administration. Chinese scholars and scientists residing in the US for research purposes were the main targets of this crackdown.

Zhang Hao – Image credit: Global Times

Reportedly, Zhang was accused of stealing and selling American trade secrets with the Chinese military and the government. He collaborated with a colleague studying at the University of Southern California, namely Wei Pang, and used a Shell company located in the Cayman Islands to exchange confidential trade data. 



 

The other two co-conspirators were completing their doctorates in electrical engineering at a university also located in California. The conspirators worked on the R & D projects funded by DARPA and the thin-film bulk acoustic resonator technology (FBAR).

It is worth noting that FBAR has multiple uses in defense and military applications. They also worked on FBAR-related projects at Skyworks Solutions and Avago Technologies.

The group was involved in stealing “recipes, source code, specifications, presentations, design layouts” from Avago and Skyworks for building similar facilities back in China and obtaining military and commercial contracts.

In 2009, they resigned from their job positions in the US and accepted full-time employment at Tianjin University as professors. They also designed a joint venture with the university, dubbed ROFS Microsystems, for mass production of FBAR.

“The FBI will not allow American research and development to be stolen. We encourage companies to come to us both proactively and when suspicious activity is observed so that we can work together to protect American businesses and ensure our national economic security,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Bennett.

Zhang faced a lengthy prosecution, which ended this week. Judge Edward Davila ordered Zhang to pay $477,000 to the companies he stole secrets from and will be spending 18-months in a security prison in California.

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