U.S. engineer contacted China before stealing missile tracking tech, DOJ says


A deactivated Titan II nuclear ICMB is seen in a silo at the Titan Missile Museum on May 12, 2015 in Green Valley, Arizona. 

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Federal prosecutors charged an engineer who worked at a Los Angeles-area company with stealing trade secret technologies developed for use by the U.S. government in space to detect nuclear missile launches and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

The DOJ said the technology allegedly stolen by 57-year-old Chenguang Gong would be “dangerous to U.S. national security if obtained by international actors.”

Gong, who lives in San Jose, California, is a native of China who became an American citizen in 2011, prosecutors said. He was arrested Tuesday and is due to appear at a detention hearing later Wednesday.

Los Angeles U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said that Gong previously sought to provide the People’s Republic of China with information that would help the nation’s military.

Gong, from 2014 through 2022, submitted multiple applications for so-called “talent programs” run by the Chinese government while “being employed by several major U.S. technology companies and one of the world’s largest defense contractors,” a criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court alleges.

The Chinese Talent Program Tracker is known to identify individuals located outside China who have skills and knowledge that can help transform the Chinese economy and bolster its military capabilities, the complaint noted.

“In his submissions to the Talent Programs, Gong proposed projects that mirrored his work for several of these companies, and repeatedly touted that his proposals would be useful to China’s military and that China did not yet have the technologies he was proposing to develop himself or share with Chinese companies,” the complaint said.

We know that foreign actors, including the PRC, are actively seeking to steal our technology,” Estrada said in a statement, “but we will remain vigilant against this threat by safeguarding the innovations of American businesses and researchers.

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The complaint said that Gong transferred more than 3,600 digital files from the unidentified research and development company in Malibu where he worked for less than four months early last year to three personal storage devices.

The files were transferred between March 30 and April 25, and more than 1,800 of those files were transferred after he had accepted a job in early April at one of his company’s main competitors, the complaint said.

Much of the company’s work developing infrared sensor technology is funded through a contract with the Defense Department and other U.S. government contractors, the complaint says.

“The files Gong allegedly transferred include blueprints for sophisticated infrared sensors designed for use in space-based systems to detect nuclear missile launches and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles,” the DOJ said.

They also allegedly included “blueprints for sensors designed to enable U.S. military aircraft to detect incoming heat-seeking missiles and take countermeasures, including by jamming the missiles’ infrared tracking ability,” the department said.

Gong was responsible for managing the design and development of readout integrated circuits on the company’s sensors.

Many of the files he allegedly transferred were marked “proprietary,” “for official use only” and “export controlled” the complaint said.

The company fired Gong in late April after searching his office in response to network activity and finding a flash drive containing files that had been transferred.

“The Victim Company then interviewed Gong, who provided evasive and contradictory answers but eventually admitted to having transferred files from his work laptop onto his personal drives and to having viewed those files on his personal computer,” the complaint said.

Gong began working at another company on May 1 but was fired nine days later after the victim company alerted the other firm to information about his file transfers.

The complaint says that some of the files Gong is accused of stealing were found at his home by investigators last year.



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