Ji Chaoqun, a former Chicago college student, was sentenced to eight years in prison on Tuesday, January 24, four years after he was arrested on allegations of spying for the Chinese government, authorities said in a statement.
The 31-year-old was arrested in 2018 for acting as an agent of China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), an intelligence unit notorious for illegally obtaining classified United States trade secrets.
The suspect was recruited by Chinese intelligence shortly after coming to the US in 2013 to study engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. In the following years, Chaoqun divulged information on eight scientists and engineers in the country with knowledge of aerospace and satellite technology.
The said people were reportedly US citizens but were born in China, and seven of them worked for the country's defense contractors. Chinese intelligence allegedly used the information to recruit scientists and engineers as potential spies for their country.
Ji Chaoqun knowingly lied about his foreign agencies contacts while enlisting in the US Army Reserve in 2016
Ji Chaoqun was convicted last year for espionage by a jury in the Northern District of Illinois.
The charges included one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, specifically the People’s Republic of China, without first notifying the Attorney General, one count of acting as an agent of the People’s Republic of China without first notifying the Attorney General, and one count of making a materially false statement to the U.S. Army.
As per a press release, in addition to gathering information on potential recruits for Chinese intelligence, Ji Chaoqun knowingly lied on a government form about his contacts with foreign agencies while enlisting in the US Army Reserve in 2016.
The suspect also failed to disclose his foreign relations in an interview with an army officer to get into the Army Reserve program that recruits foreigners with skills vital to the national interest.
During the trial, prosecutors said that in 2018, the suspect reportedly met with another agent from Chinese intelligence and informed them that with his military identification, he would be able to photograph “Roosevelt-class” aircraft carriers.
The suspect added that further down the line when he becomes a US citizen, he could work for the CIA, FBI, or NASA and provide China with classified documents.
The statement read:
“Ji also explained that once he obtained his U.S. citizenship and security clearance through the MAVNI program, he would seek a job at the CIA, FBI or NASA. Ji intended to perform cybersecurity work at one of those agencies so that he would have access to all their databases, including databases that contained scientific research.”
According to the Justice Department, Ji Chaoqun acted at the direction of Xu Yanjun, a Deputy Division Director within the Ministry of State Security, who was sentenced last year to 20 years after being convicted in the Southern District of Ohio of espionage.