‘Technology spy’ sought advanced jet engines, Reaper drone for reverse engineering
China’s government covertly tried to obtain advanced U.S. fighter jet engines and a Reaper drone in a high-technology spying operation uncovered by federal authorities in Florida.
A Chinese-born woman, Wenxia Man, was sentenced to 50 months in prison on Friday following her conviction for conspiracy to export restricted American defense articles, namely engines for F-35, F-22, and F-16 jets, and the Reaper, a front-line unmanned aerial vehicle used by the military and intelligence agencies.
Court papers in the case stated that Man, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in California who is also known as Wency Man, worked with a Chinese government procurement agent, Xinsheng Zhang, in trying to purchase the military items. The Chinese planned to reverse-engineer the U.S. military goods to avoid the costs and time required for indigenous development. Zhang operated from China and remains out of reach of prosecutors.
Michael Walleisa, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 78 months for the weapons conspiracy conviction.
“There is hardly a more serious case than a case such as this that involves some of our most sophisticated fighter jet engines and unmanned weaponized aerial drones,” Walleisa said in a sentencing memorandum.
“The potential for harm to the safety of our fighter pilots, military personnel, and national security which would occur had the defendant been successful is immeasurable, particularly where, as here the clear intent of the co-conspirators was to enable the People’s Republic of China to reverse engineer the defense articles and manufacture fighter jets and UAV’s.”
Between 2011 and 2013, Man and Zhang worked together to solicit three sets of General Electric and Pratt and Whitney turbofan engines for the F-35, F-22, and F-16 jets, as well as a General Atomics Reaper drone and technical details of the equipment. The Chinese were prepared to pay $50 million for the embargoed items.
Authorities launched an investigation of the case after Man contacted a defense industry source who alerted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations unit in Miami. The Pentagon’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service also investigated the case.
Man used a company called AFM Microelectronics, Inc. in trying to buy the military equipment. She disclosed to an undercover federal agent in 2012 that the jet engines were meant for the Chinese government and that she knew it was illegal to export them, according to court papers.
China is engaged in a major military buildup that includes two new advanced stealth jet fighters that U.S. intelligence agencies say benefitted from stolen American aircraft technology.
Michael Pillsbury, a China specialist at the Hudson Institute, said the Man case highlights China’s large-scale technology theft program.
“The scope and the ambition of their technology intelligence collection is breathtaking,” said Pillsbury. “They’re not after petty secrets.”
The Man case is similar to an earlier Chinese technology acquisition operation headed by Chi Mak, another naturalized Chinese citizen. In 2007, Mak, an electrical engineer at the U.S. firm Power Paragon, was convicted of conspiracy to export sensitive electronics defense technology to China.
Mak was a long-term technology spy who operated for 20 years. U.S. officials believe Mak provided China with secrets to the Aegis battle management system, the heart of current Navy warships.
China has deployed a similar version of the Aegis ship, known as the Type 052D warship.
Full article: China’s Covert Weapons Procurement Revealed in Florida Case (Washington Free Beacon)