CHICAGO — A Chinese national was sentenced today to eight years in federal prison for acting illegally within 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, on one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, specifically the People’s Republic of China, without first notifying the Attorney General; one count of acting as an agent of the People’s Republic of China without first notifying the Attorney General; and one count of making a material false statement to the U.S. Army. U.S. District Judge Ronald A. Guzman imposed the sentence.
The sentence was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Matthew G. Olsen, Assistant Attorney General for National Security at the U.S. Department of Justice; and Robert W. “Wes” Wheeler, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI. The U.S. Army 902nd Military Intelligence Group provided valuable assistance. The government was represented by Assistant U.S. 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 Section.
Evidence presented at trial revealed that Ji worked at the direction of high-level intelligence officers in the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, a provincial department of the Ministry of State Security for the People’s Republic of China. Ji, a Chinese citizen residing in Chicago, was tasked by Xu Yanjun, a Deputy Division Director within the Ministry of State Security, with providing biographical information on certain individuals for possible recruitment by the JSSD. The individuals included Chinese nationals who were working as engineers and scientists in the United States, some of whom worked for U.S. defense contractors. This tasking was part of an effort by the Jiangsu provincial department to obtain access to advanced aerospace and satellite technologies being developed by companies within the U.S. Xu was sentenced last year to 20 years in federal prison after being convicted in the Southern District of Ohio of conspiracy and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets.
In 2016, Ji enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, which authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills are considered vital to the national interest. In his application to participate in the MAVNI program, Ji falsely stated that he had not had contact with a foreign government within the past seven years. In a subsequent interview with a U.S. Army officer, Ji again failed to disclose his relationship and contacts with a foreign intelligence officer.
Evidence at trial further revealed that in 2018 Ji had several meetings with an undercover law enforcement agent who was posing as a representative of the Ministry of State Security. During these meetings, Ji explained that with his military identification, he could visit and take photos of “Roosevelt-class” aircraft carriers. Ji also explained that once he obtained his U.S. citizenship and security clearance through the MAVNI program, he would seek a job at the CIA, FBI, or NASA. Ji intended to perform cybersecurity work at one of those agencies so that he would have access to their databases, including databases that contained scientific research.