CHICAGO — A former Chicago graduate student was sentenced to eight years in prison Wednesday for spying for the Chinese government by gathering information on scientists and engineers in the U.S. with knowledge about aerospace and satellite technology.
A federal jury in Chicago in September convicted Ji Chaoqun, 31, of conspiracy to act as an agent of China’s Ministry of State Security without notifying the U.S. attorney general, acting as a spy in the U.S., and lying on a government form about his contacts with foreign agencies.
Ji gathered background reports on eight U.S. citizens, all born in Taiwan or China, with careers in science and technology industries, including several who specialized in the aerospace field, prosecutors said. Seven worked for U.S. defense contractors.
The charges alleged Ji was targeted by agents with the Ministry of State Security, or MSS, shortly before he came to the U.S. in 2013 to study engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
After traveling back to China for the winter break, prosecutors said, Ji was “wined and dined” by his MSS handlers. He was eventually given a top secret contract in which he swore an oath of allegiance to the agency’s cause, agreeing to “devote the rest of my life to state security,” according to prosecutors.
Ji sent the background reports on the U.S. citizens back to his handlers in a zipped attachment that was falsely labeled as sets of “midterm exam” questions, Assistant U.S. Attorney Barry Jonas said at Ji’s trial.
In 2016, a year after Ji graduated from the college, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve through a program to recruit foreigners who have skills considered vital to the national interest.
The jury found Ji guilty of giving false answers on a government background form that asked if he had ever had any contact with foreign intelligence agencies.