In a recent development, federal prosecutors have brought charges against an engineer employed by a Los Angeles-area company. The individual is accused of unlawfully appropriating trade secrets related to technologies designed for the U.S. government’s space initiatives, specifically for detecting nuclear missile launches and tracking ballistic and hypersonic missiles. The Department of Justice (DOJ) asserted on Wednesday that the technology purportedly pilfered by the 57-year-old engineer, Chenguang Gong, could pose a significant threat to U.S. national security if acquired by international entities. The allegations highlight the potential dangers associated with the unauthorized dissemination of sensitive technologies critical for national defense.
Residing in San Jose, California, Gong, originally from China, obtained U.S. citizenship in 2011, according to prosecutors. Arrested on Tuesday, he is scheduled for a detention hearing on Wednesday. Los Angeles U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada revealed that Gong had previously attempted to furnish the People’s Republic of China with information beneficial to its military endeavors.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Los Angeles federal court, Gong, spanning the period from 2014 to 2022, reportedly submitted numerous applications for “talent programs” sponsored by the Chinese government. Notably, these submissions occurred while he was employed by several prominent U.S. technology companies and one of the world’s largest defense contractors. The complaint highlights that the Chinese Talent Program Tracker is designed to identify individuals situated outside China possessing skills and expertise capable of contributing to the transformation of the Chinese economy and enhancing its military capabilities.
The complaint revealed that in his applications to the Talent Programs, Gong suggested projects closely resembling his assignments at multiple companies. It was noted that he consistently emphasized the utility of his proposals to China’s military, asserting that the technologies he intended to develop were not currently available in China. In response, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada emphasized the active pursuit of technology theft by foreign entities, including the People’s Republic of China (PRC). He affirmed the commitment to remain vigilant against such threats, safeguarding the innovations of American businesses and researchers.
As per the complaint, Gong allegedly moved over 3,600 digital files from the undisclosed research and development company in Malibu, where he was employed for less than four months in the early part of last year. These files were transferred onto three personal storage devices, with the transfer occurring between March 30 and April 25. Disturbingly, it was noted that over 1,800 of these files were transferred subsequent to Gong accepting a new position in early April at one of the primary competitors of his then-current employer.
A substantial portion of the company’s efforts in advancing infrared sensor technology is financed through a contract with the Defense Department and various other U.S. government contractors, as outlined in the complaint. The documents supposedly transferred by Gong encompass blueprints for advanced infrared sensors specifically crafted for utilization in space-based systems. These sensors are intended for the detection of nuclear missile launches and tracking of ballistic and hypersonic missiles, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The transferred files purportedly encompassed “blueprints for sensors aimed at equipping U.S. military aircraft with the capability to detect incoming heat-seeking missiles and deploy countermeasures, such as jamming the missiles’ infrared tracking ability,” as stated by the department. Gong held the responsibility of overseeing the design and development of readout integrated circuits on the sensors manufactured by the company.
Numerous files that Gong is accused of transferring were reportedly labeled with designations such as “proprietary,” “for official use only,” and “export controlled,” as outlined in the complaint. Following an investigation triggered by suspicious network activity and the discovery of a flash drive containing transferred files during an office search, the company terminated Gong’s employment in late April.
Following the discovery, the Victim Company conducted an interview with Gong, during which he reportedly gave evasive and contradictory responses. However, he eventually confessed to transferring files from his work laptop to personal drives and viewing them on his personal computer, according to the complaint. Gong commenced employment at another company on May 1 but was terminated just nine days later after the initial victim company informed the new employer about the details of his file transfers. Investigators, as per the complaint, found some of the allegedly stolen files at Gong’s residence last year.