Chinese Engineer Allegedly Stole Trade Secret Technology For Detecting Nuclear Missile Launches: DOJ

Authored by Frank Fang via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

A Chinese-born researcher has been arrested for allegedly stealing trade secret technologies developed for the U.S. government to detect nuclear missile launches and to track ballistic and hypersonic missiles, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Chenguang Gong, 57, of San Jose, California, was arrested in San Jose on Feb. 6, prosecutors said.

Mr. Gong became a U.S. citizen in 2011. He got his master’s degree in electrical engineering from Clemson University and completed some work toward a doctorate at Stanford University, according to court documents.

From January 2023 to April 2023, Mr. Gong worked as an engineer for a research and development company based in Malibu, California. The company was referred to only as the “victim company” by the DOJ and in court documents.

Court documents said much of the company’s work—the development of infrared sensor technology for space-based and military missions for missile detection—was funded through contacts with the Pentagon and other government contracts.

Mr. Gong allegedly transferred 3,600 files from his work laptop to three personal storage devices from March 2023 to April 2023, according to court documents. Hundreds of documents marked as confidential or proprietary belonging to the company were discovered on devices taken from his temporary residence in Thousand Oaks, California, following an FBI search in May 2023.

The DOJ said the technology allegedly stolen by Mr. Gong would be “dangerous to U.S. national security if obtained by international actors.”

“Many of the files Gong allegedly transferred contained proprietary and trade secret information related to the development and design of a readout integrated circuit that allows space-based systems to detect missile launches and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles while providing resilience and a readout integrated circuit that allows aircraft to track incoming threats in low visibility environments,” the DOJ stated.

Other files were related to the development of the company’s “next-generation sensors,” which can “detect low observable targets while demonstrating improved survivability in strategic space applications,” the court document says.

The information Mr. Gong allegedly stole was among the company’s “most important trade secrets,” worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the DOJ said, adding that some of the files were marked “EXPORT CONTROLLED.”

“The theft of trade secrets, especially of sensitive military technology, undermines our national security, erodes U.S. competitiveness in the global market, and harms the businesses and individuals who have invested time, resources, and creativity into developing innovative technologies,” Donald Alway, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said in a statement.

After becoming aware of his activities, the company terminated Mr. Gong’s employment in late April 2023.

According to the DOJ, Mr. Gong is charged with theft of trade secrets, which, if he’s convicted, carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

He was released on $2.5 million bond with location monitoring and curfew on Feb. 7 following a hearing in San Jose, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said, according to NBC News.

China

The FBI also uncovered Mr. Gong’s employment history in China. For three years in the 1990s, Mr. Gong was a “government employee” of a provincial-level association under the leadership of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang, according to court documents.

Before joining the Malibu-based company last year, Mr. Gong worked for “a number of prominent U.S. technology companies, as well as an international defense, aerospace, and security company,” according to court documents.

While employed in the United States, Mr. Gong repeatedly contacted Chinese authorities. According to court documents, he submitted “numerous applications” for China’s “Talent Programs” from 2014 to 2022.

The regime in Beijing offers hefty financial incentives—including research funding, salaries, and housing—via many different talent recruitment programs to entice overseas Chinese and foreign experts into working in China’s science and tech sectors. The CCP hopes to quickly turn China into an industrial and innovation powerhouse through these programs, one that ultimately outperforms Western countries.

The FBI has long warned about these Chinese programs, saying that they encourage trade secret theft and economic espionage.

Talent plans usually involve undisclosed and illegal transfers of information, technology, or intellectual property that are one-way and detrimental to U.S. institutions,” the FBI says on its website.

In recent years, federal authorities have prosecuted academics who have allegedly concealed their links to China’s talent programs.

In 2017, Mr. Gong wrote to the 38th Research Institute of the state-run China Electronics Technology Group Corp. requesting funding. He stated that he “would like to apply for funding for entrepreneurial teams” to develop high-performance analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters similar to those produced by his U.S. employer, according to court documents.

He told the institute that he would use the funding for his startup company, which would “become the leader in the field of data converters in China, providing customization for the military and civilian fields,” according to court documents.

Mr. Gong traveled to China twice to participate in talent program conferences in 2019. In an email translated from Chinese to English by the FBI, Mr. Gong remarked that he “took a risk” by traveling to China to participate in the Talent Programs “because [he] worked for … an American military industry company” and thought he could “do something” to contribute to China’s “high-end military integrated circuits,” according to the DOJ.

In a 2020 talent program application, Mr. Gong proposed to develop “low light/night vision” image sensors for use in military night vision goggles and civilian applications, according to the DOJ.

In a video presentation included with Gong’s [2020] submission, Gong used a video containing the model number of a sensor developed by an international defense, aerospace, and security company where Gong worked from 2015 to 2019,” the DOJ said.

“We will do everything to protect our nation’s security, including from foreign threats,” Martin Estrada, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement.

“We know that foreign actors, including the PRC [People’s Republic of China], are actively seeking to steal our technology, but we will remain vigilant against this threat … by safeguarding the innovations of American businesses and researchers.”

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