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Espionage

Chinese citizen who enlisted in US Army Reserves accused of spying, helping recruit engineers

Ji Chaoqun allegedly researched eight naturalised American citizens who were born in Taiwan or China, according to authorities

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 10:35pm

A Chinese citizen was arrested in Chicago on Tuesday on charges that he covertly worked for a high-ranking Chinese intelligence official to help try and recruit engineers and scientists, including some who worked as US defence contractors, the Justice Department said.

Ji Chaoqun first came to the United States in 2013 to study electrical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and in 2016 enlisted in the US Army Reserves.

The 27-year-old was charged with one count of knowingly acting as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the US Attorney General.

Ji made an initial appearance in federal court in downtown Chicago, looking tired and fidgeting as he stood before US Magistrate Judge Michael T. Mason.

Ji huddled with a Chinese-language interpreter for much of the 15-minute hearing.

But when the judge asked if he understood his rights, Ji lifted his head and said in English, “I understand.”

Assistant US Attorney Shoba Pillay said at the hearing that Ji faces up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted on the one count.

Through a lawyer, Laura Hoey, Ji also asked that the Chinese consulate be notified about his arrest. Judge Mason ordered that Ji remain in custody for now, and US Marshal’s agents handcuffed him and led him away.

No additional hearings were immediately set.

According to the criminal complaint, Ji arrived in the United States from Beijing in August of 2013 on an F1 student visa, and went on to earn a Master’s Degree in electrical engineering in 2015.

He enlisted in the US Army Reserves under a programme that allows some immigrants living in the country legally to serve in the military if their skills could be vital to US interests.

Text messages reviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed that in November 2013, Ji was introduced to an intelligence officer from the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, referred to in the complaint as “Intelligence Officer A”, by another person only identified as “Intelligence Officer B”.

They later met on several occasions in China, and initially the intelligence official told Ji he was a college professor, according to the complaint and affidavit filed by the FBI.

However, the FBI said, Ji eventually learned the person’s true identity and knew he was an officer in the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, which is a provincial department of the Ministry of State Security.

A search warrant executed on an email account in 2015 later showed Ji had sent files to Intelligence Officer A containing information about eight different people based in the United States.

The eight people were all naturalised citizens from Taiwan or China now living in the United States.

The Justice Department said all of them work for, or had retired from, jobs in the science and technology sectors, and that seven of the eight work or had worked for US defence contractors.

Reuters, Associated Press