A Chinese national who came to the US on a student visa and later enlisted in the army reserves has been arrested in Chicago accused of helping Beijing attempt to recruit scientists and engineers.
Ji Chaoqun’s arrest came on Tuesday, months after he voluntarily admitted his work to US undercover agents.
He was allegedly tasked with providing Chinese intelligence with biographical information about eight US citizens – some of whom were US defence contractors.
The 27-year-old, who first arrived in Chicago in 2013 to study electrical engineering on a student visa, was charged with one count of knowingly acting as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the US Attorney General.
According to a court affidavit, Ji was working at the direction of a “high-level intelligence officer” in China’s ministry of state security, which “handles civilian intelligence collection and is responsible for counter-intelligence and foreign intelligence, as well as political security”.
All eight of the people Ji allegedly researched were naturalised US citizens who were born in Taiwan or China, according to authorities.
The targets either currently worked or were recently retired from a career in the science and technology industry.
An affidavit filed in federal court by an FBI investigator specialising in espionage, claims among the people targeted was an engineer at one of “the world’s top aircraft engine suppliers for both commercial and military aircraft”.
After one of Ji’s handlers was arrested, he met with US undercover agents in April and May, and admitted to his work, which included collecting background checks, the affidavit said.
He allegedly told the undercover agents: “They just wanted me to purchase some documents on their behalf. Their reason was just because it was inconvenient for them to make payments from China.”
Ji enlisted in the army reserves, according to the US Attorney’s office, but failed to disclose his foreign contacts to the military.