By Akerele Christabel 11:36 am PST

A high-ranking spy official spills China’s infiltration ploy over the past years within the United States. In a shocking series of events, the U.S. government has uncovered China’s plot employed to penetrate their society.

In February, a Chinese spy balloon was found drifting through Southern California airspace before being shot down by a fighter jet. The issue of the Chinese spy balloon, an unmanned, lighter-than-air vehicle that is equipped with sophisticated sensors and cameras, has set off a chain of other discoveries that point to the outright  attempts by China to infiltrate and steal classified information from within U.S. borders.

The latest  exhibit on China’s infiltration of the United States is a case involving a Chinese expatriate, named Mr. Hua, and a high-ranking official within a Chinese espionage agency.

In March, 2017, Mr. Hua, an engineer for  G.E aviation, received a request on LinkedIn from Chen Feng, a supposed school official at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Aviation in eastern China. Hua  was asked by Feng to give a research presentation on his expertise, which included use of carbon-based composites in fan blades and their casings. Hua made it clear that he would only be able to discuss his research on composite materials generally, as he would  not give out specific information on what he does at G.E Aviation.

Hua downloaded a set of classified information on his laptop to prepare his presentation. While in Nanjing, he was peppered with specific questions on composite materials. However, he skirted these questions,  stating he could not discuss those concepts as they were classified. Upon  returning to the United States, he remembered that he forgot to delete the documents he downloaded to  his laptop to prepare for the presentation. He asked a student to delete the document and moved on from the matter. .

Six months later, the FBI came looking for Hua. A panicked Hua tried to cover up his involvement but he later cracked during interrogation. He was then recruited as a counterintelligence agent as a way to wipe the slate clean and protect his family. Through a series of strategies, they baited out the mastermind behind the call inviting Hua for the presentation. Xu Yanjun, alias Qu, the man who organized the whole farce and asked Feng to reach out to Hua, was later arrested in  Belgium with the cooperation of the local police.

The FBI discovered evidence of Xu’s espionage activities by hacking his iCloud account from his iPhone. They found his  Chinese government espionage involvement in infiltrating  several other aviation agencies, in addition to G.E. The information gathered  from Xu’s phone was damning, to say the least. It verified China’s ongoing  efforts to steal American intellectual property. Xu was put on trial in October 2021 in Cincinnati and was convicted of conspiring as well as  attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets against the U.S. government. On Nov. 16  2023, Xu was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Ohio. His conviction is currently  being appealed by the Chinese government.

In recent years, China has been recruiting those who they  consider expat nationals through hundreds of formal “talent” programs, which identify experts in American schools and industries to help fill specific gaps in knowledge back home. “It’s a vehicle to get them to travel back to China to attend conferences, to provide lectures, which allows the opportunity to develop a relationship with them and later take advantage of that relationship to get intellectual property,” Gunnar Newquist, a former counterintelligence agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, told Yuddhijit Bhattacharjee, author of The Spy who Couldn’t Spell and other books on espionage.

The guests are often hosted in luxury hotels, driven around in limousines, taken on sightseeing tours, and after receiving this lavish treatment, some feel obligated to provide information that they might not have initially planned to share. While working for  the F.B.I., James Gaylord, a former counterintelligence agent, interviewed many scientists and engineers of Chinese origin who had been courted in this fashion. Some of them described how they had been pressured to share more than they intended to. Gaylord describes what many of these individuals shared with him. “They would say: ‘Everything in my presentation was approved by my company. After I finished it and stepped down, a gaggle of students surrounded me to ask more questions. And they kept pushing me for more and more sensitive information.And a lot of them say: ‘You know, after a while, you start to break down. You can’t keep saying, “I can’t talk about this.” You then start answering around the edges, giving away more and more.”

The spying carried out is on behalf of  the Chinese state. The Ministry of State Security, or M.S.S., is responsible for gathering foreign intelligence, and has the responsibility of collecting information in technologies that the Chinese government wants to build up. The current focus, according to U.S. counterintelligence experts, aligns with the “Made in China 2025” initiative, that was announced in 2015. This industrial plan seeks to make China the world’s top manufacturer in 10 unique areas, including robotics, artificial intelligence, new synthetic materials and aerospace. In the words of one former U.S. national security official, the plan is a “road map for theft.”

The Chinese government employs not only its own intelligence services but also conducts its efforts within  businesses and institutions as well as  utilizing individuals to gather proprietary information. While espionage is not a big deal among the global heavyweights, China’s intellectual theft has gotten the American government incensed, only continuing to deepen the geopolitical tensions between the two states.