Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
New York City, NY, United States (4E) – A Chinese man holding dual Chinese and American citizenships had admitted to stealing trade secrets related to General Electric’s turbine engine technology, and might have forwarded these secrets to a Chinese spy agency.
Xiaoqing Zheng was arrested by the FBI in the United States in early July for theft of GE trade secrets, said the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The FBI said the technology secrets stolen by Zheng were also intended to advance the business interests of companies he owns.
Zheng was charged with a single count of theft of trade secrets. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, as well as three years of supervised release. Zheng was ordered released on $100,000 bond after a hearing, however.
Zheng, 55, told FBI agents he either owns or works for companies in China that work on the same GE technologies. He said these businesses aren’t profitable as yet, but admitted receiving “grant money or funding” from the Chinese government.
Zheng also confessed to stealing GE data many times. The U.S. government affidavit dealing with Zneng’s crimes said the accused is believed to have copied more than 19,000 files from his GE-issued computer onto an external storage device in 2014. Zheng used a technique called “steganography” to conceal the GE data inside the binary code of an ordinary-looking “digital picture of a sunset” he sent to his personal email address.
The FBI said there is probable cause to believe Zheng acted knowingly “with the intent to convert a trade secret that is related to a product and service used in and intended for use in interstate and foreign commerce.”
The FBI affidavit said Zheng worked for, or owned, Chinese companies dealing in the same technologies produced by GE Power, which manufactures and markets energy generation technologies used worldwide.
“The GE proprietary technologies on which Zheng works would have economic value to any of GE’s business competitors,” said the affidavit.
An FBI search search of Zheng’s home in Niskayuna, New York found and confiscated a handbook detailing resources Chinese spy agencies provides agents or entities out to acquire targeted technologies. The FBI also found Zheng had travelled to China five times over the past two years
“We have been in close cooperation with the FBI for some time on this matter,” said a GE spokesperson. “At GE, we aggressively protect and defend our Intellectual Property and have strict processes in place for identifying these issues and partnering with law enforcement.”
Zheng was hired by GE in 2008. He holds master’s and doctorate degrees in aeroengineering from Northwestern Polytechnic University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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