CHICAGO – An ex Chicago graduate student was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday for espionage for the Chinese government gathering information on scientists and engineers in the United States with knowledge of aerospace and satellite technology.
A federal jury in Chicago in September convicted Ji Chaoqun, 31, of conspiracy to act as an agent of the Chinese Ministry of State Security without notifying the US Attorney General, acting as a spy in the US and lying on a government form about his contacts with foreign agencies.
The allegations alleged that Ji was targeted by agents of the Ministry of State Security, or MSS, shortly before he arrived in the United States in 2013 to study engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
After returning to China for winter break, prosecutors said, Ji was “won and dined” by his MSS handlers. He was eventually given a top-secret contract in which he swore allegiance to the agency’s cause, agreeing to “devote the rest of my life to state security,” according to prosecutors.
Ji eventually gathered background reports on eight U.S. citizens, all born in Taiwan or China, with careers in science and technology industries, including many specializing in aerospace, prosecutors said. Seven worked for US defense contractors.
He sent the reports back to his handlers in a zipped attachment that was falsely labeled a series of “interim review” questions, Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas said at Ji’s trial.
In 2016, a year after graduating from college, Ji enlisted in the US Army Reserve through a program to recruit foreigners with skills considered vital to the national interest.
The jury found Ji guilty of providing false answers on a government background form asking if he had ever had contact with foreign intelligence agencies.