Illinois

Northern District of Illinois | Chinese citizen sentenced to eight years in prison for acting in the US as an unregistered agent of the People’s Republic of China

CHICAGO — A Chinese national was today sentenced to eight years in federal prison for acting illegally in the United States as an agent of the People’s Republic of China.

A jury in the Northern District of Illinois last year convicted JI CHAOQUN, 31, in a count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, particularly the People’s Republic of China, without first notifying the Attorney General; an indictment of acting as a representative of the People’s Republic of China without prior notice to the Attorney General; and an indictment of material misrepresentation to the US Army. US District Judge Ronald A. Guzman handed down the verdict.

The verdict was delivered by John R. Lausch, Jr., US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Matthew G. Olsen, Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the US Department of Justice; and Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Chicago Field Office. The US Army’s 902nd Military Intelligence Group provided valuable assistance. The government was represented by US Assistant Attorneys Vikas Didwania and Barry Jonas of the Northern District of Illinois and Senior Trial Attorney Heather Schmidt of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Branch.

Evidence presented at the trial revealed that Ji worked under orders from senior intelligence officers at the Jiangsu Provincial Ministry of Domestic Security, a provincial branch of the Ministry of Domestic Security of the People’s Republic of China. Ji, a Chinese citizen residing in Chicago, was hired by Xu Yanjun, a deputy department head at the Department of State Security, to provide biographical information on certain individuals for possible recruitment by the JSSD. The individuals included Chinese nationals working as engineers and scientists in the United States, some of whom worked for US defense contractors. This assignment was part of the Jiangsu provincial government’s efforts to gain access to advanced aerospace and satellite technologies being developed by US companies. Xu was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison last year after being convicted in Ohio’s Southern District on conspiracy charges and attempting to commit industrial espionage and stealing trade secrets.

In 2016, Ji enlisted in the US Army Reserves as part of the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, which authorized the US Armed Forces to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills were deemed vital to the national interest be considered. In his application to join the MAVNI program, Ji falsely stated that he had not had contact with any foreign government in the past seven years. In a subsequent interview with a US Army officer, Ji again concealed his relationship and contacts with a foreign intelligence officer.

Evidence at the trial also revealed that Ji had several meetings in 2018 with an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a representative of the Ministry of State Security. During these meetings, Ji explained that his military identification card would allow him to visit and photograph “Roosevelt-class” aircraft carriers. Ji also stated that once he received his US citizenship and security clearance through the MAVNI program, he would seek a job with the CIA, FBI, or NASA. Ji intended to do cybersecurity work at one of these agencies so that he would have access to their databases, including databases containing scientific research.

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