SAN FRANCISCO – Jonathan Yet Wing Soong pleaded guilty today to violating export control laws in connection with a scheme to secretly funnel sensitive aeronautics software to a Beijing university, announced United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds; Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Robert K. Tripp; Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement (BIS), Special Agent in Charge John D. Masters; Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) Special Agent in Charge Bryan D. Denny. The plea was accepted by the Hon. Susan Illston, United States District Judge.
Between August 2016 and September 2020, Soong, 35, of Castro Valley, Calif., was employed as a program administrator by Universities Space Research Association (USRA), a nonprofit research corporation focusing on advancing space science and technology. In April of 2016, USRA contracted with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to, among other things, license and distribute aeronautics-related Army flight control software for a fee. Soong’s duties included, among other things, conducting and servicing software license sales, conducting export compliance screening of customers, generating software licenses, and exporting software pursuant to purchased licenses. As part of his duties, Soong was responsible for vetting customers to ensure they did not appear on certain restrictive lists—including the Department of Commerce’s Entity List and other U.S. government lists—that placed limitations on the transfer of products to identified entities. In pleading guilty, Soong admitted that he willingly exported and facilitated the sale and transfer of restricted software to Beihang University knowing that the university was on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List. According to government filings in the case, Beihang University was added to the Entity List due to the University’s involvement in People’s Republic of China military rocket systems and unmanned air vehicle systems. In his plea agreement, Soong acknowledged he used an intermediary to complete the export of the program to avoid detection that the real purchaser was on the Entity List.
At issue in the case is a software package referred to as CIFER, a tool that allows a user to develop a dynamic model of an aircraft, based on collective flight test data using system identification techniques. According to government filings, the package could be used to analyze and design aircraft control systems. According to his plea agreement, Soong was aware in April of 2017 that the CIFER software was subject to Export Administration Regulations and that Beihang University was on the Entity List thus making it necessary to obtain a license prior to exporting the CIFER software to the university. Soong acknowledged that he nonetheless arranged to sell and transfer the CIFER software package to the entity without obtaining a license.
The plea agreement describes how, on May 1, 2017, a representative of the university communicated with Soong and expressed an interest in exploring an arrangement in which rather than use Beihang University as the purchaser of the CIFER software, the purchase would be made in the name of a third-party small company. For the next several months, Soong communicated with the representative and then, in late 2017, Soong communicated with a representative from Beijing Rainbow Technical Development Ltd. (Beijing Rainbow), identified as being the third-party intermediary for the sale of the CIFER software to Beihang University. Soong ultimately exported directly to Beihang University. In July 2018, Soong also arranged to have the passcodes for the CIFER software package forwarded to Beihang University with payment coming from Beijing Rainbow.
On September 26, 2022, Soong was charged by information with one count of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), in violation of 50 U.S.C. §§ 1702 and 1705. Pursuant to today’s agreement, Soong pleaded guilty to the count.
The IEEPA violation carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine. In addition, as part of any sentence, the court may order restitution and up to three years of supervised release. However, any sentence after conviction will be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
Soong remains out of custody pending sentencing. Judge Illston scheduled Soong’s sentencing hearing for April 28, 2023. Assistant United States Attorney Barbara Valliere of the United States Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Section is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Maddi Wachs and Kathy Tat. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the BIS, DCIS, and the FBI with assistance from the NASA Office of Inspector General; U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division; the U.S. Army Counterintelligence; and the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations.