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Judge sentences former Chicago college student to eight years in prison for spying for China

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A federal judge Wednesday sentenced a former Chicago college student to eight years in federal prison for spying on behalf of the Chinese government. Most sensitive operations.

Ji Zhao Kun’s attorneys told U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman to portray Ji as a young, idealistic student manipulated by much more sophisticated members of China’s spy-recruiting agency, and that he was actually He asked for a prison sentence, pointing out that he never provided classified information to his country. US secret.

However, in taking over his 96-month term, Mr. Guzmán will have plans for the future, including enlisting in the U.S. military, obtaining citizenship, gaining access to classified bases, and finally obtaining a parlay. He said he was uneasy about Gee’s “long term” plans. For CIA, FBI, or NASA jobs.

“He had a lot more on his mind,” Guzman said, while Ji sat at the defense table in an orange prison jumpsuit, listening through a Mandarin interpreter. It was his intention to become

Guzman’s sentence was far longer than the nearly five-year prison term demanded by federal prosecutors. After serving time, Zi will be deported back to China, but Guzman said few would consider him a criminal.

“The defendant sitting in front of me is likely considered an exemplary citizen in his country of origin, and that’s sad,” Guzman said.

Ji, 31, was charged in September with spying for the Chinese government by collecting information on US scientists and engineers with valuable knowledge of aerospace technology, artificial intelligence, and even aircraft carriers. Convicted by a jury.

After about six hours of deliberation over two days, the jury found Ji on two other counts of wire fraud, alleging that he lied to the Army when he applied to become a reservist in 2016. acquitted.

His attorney, Damon Cheronis, asked how long Ji would serve, pointing out that Ji had already suffered a lot during his nearly four-and-a-half-year detention since his arrest. Had to endure the misguided wrath of another inmate who contracted COVID-19 twice while awaiting trial and accused him of bringing COVID-19 into the facility simply because he was Chinese. did not become.

“No one thinks that coming to the United States and being arrested and in prison for five years is a slap on the wrist,” Cheronis said.

Before the sentencing was handed down, Ji offered a brief apology to his family and the court for his actions and said in heavily accented English, “I will never do that again.”

In 2019, the Tribune picked up Ji’s case as a symbol of growing concern for US officials. The Chinese government has a sophisticated and far-reaching mission to get spies and foreign agents to steal ideas and technology from corporations and defense contractors around the world. Country.

Ji Chaoqun is pictured on his Facebook page. Federal officials claim the Illinois Institute of Technology student was secretly working for a Chinese spy agency. He is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago.

The indictment against Qi was part of a broader national security investigation that also led to the arrest and unprecedented extradition of his handler, Xu Yanjun, a senior intelligence officer at a major Chinese spy agency.

In November 2021, a Chinese spy convicted in federal court in Cincinnati of attempting to steal trade secrets from military contractor GE Aviation was brought to the United States for the first time in history and criminally prosecuted. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year.

The indictment against Ji states that shortly before he came to Chicago in 2013, he was sent to China to study electrical engineering at IIT, a small private school just east of the Dan Ryan Expressway with which he had an educational relationship with a Chinese university. Claims to have been targeted by agents of the Department of Homeland Security. and university.

After returning to China over the winter break, Jie was given “wine and dinner” by MSS handlers, and was eventually given a confidential contract swearing allegiance to the MSS cause, saying, “I will spend the rest of my life in national security.” We have agreed to dedicate ourselves to indemnification,” the prosecutor said.

Gee’s covert photo of the contract was later found on his cell phone, but it was not signed. According to prosecutors, Ji also took pictures of $6,000 of him given to him by his MSS for living expenses in the United States.

Five days later, Gee returned to Chicago and immediately contacted a friend who was studying aeronautics and aeronautics at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas will summarize the evidence at his September trial. told the jury at the time.

Jonas said Gee sent a friend a picture of the contract and cash and offered to share some of the “operating costs” with him if he could help find leads for MSS.

Jonas told jurors that sending pictures to friends was “probably not the brightest thing” for Ji, but that didn’t stop him from being a spy.

“You don’t have to know he’s James Bond,” Jonas said.

Ultimately, Ji was able to collect background reports on eight US citizens born in Taiwan or China who had careers in the science and technology industry, including some who specialized in the aerospace field. Prosecutors said the seven worked for U.S. defense contractors.

According to Jonas, Ji sent the report (which is available for purchase to the public) back to the handler in a zipped attachment mislabeled as a collection of “midterm exams.”

Ji graduated from the IIT in 2015 and joined the U.S. Army Reserve the following year through a program that recruits foreigners with skills deemed essential to the national interest.

Prosecutors claimed Ji hid contact with intelligence officers during military background checks, but a jury found him innocent on both of these counts.

However, a jury found him guilty of giving false answers to a government background form asking if he had any contact with foreign intelligence agencies, including the MSS.

jmeisner@chicagotribun.com

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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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