The Wall Street Journal is reporting that a Chinese-born engineer was sentenced Monday to more than 15 years in prison for hoarding sensitive information about the U.S. space shuttle that prosecutors say he intended to share with China.
The case against Dongfan "Greg" Chung was the U.S.'s first trial on economic-espionage charges.
The 74-year-old former Boeing Co. engineer was convicted in July of six counts of economic espionage and other federal charges for keeping 300,000 pages of sensitive papers in his home.
Before sentencing Mr. Chung, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney said he didn't know exactly what information Mr. Chung passed to China. "But what I do know is what he did, and what he did pass, hurt our national security and it hurt Boeing," the judge said.
Judge Carney said Mr. Chung's scheme with the Chinese government spanned 30 years.
During brief remarks, Mr. Chung begged the judge to give him a lenient sentence. He spoke from a podium while wearing a tan prison jumpsuit with his hands cuffed to a belly chain.
"Your honor, I am not a spy, I am only an ordinary man," he said, adding that he had brought the Boeing documents home to write a book.
"Your honor, I love this country.…Your honor, I beg your pardon and let me live with my family peacefully."
Documents before the court including a letter in which Chung indicated a desire to contribute to the “motherland” and its “four modernizations” program.
(Launched by Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s, the program aimed to make China a great economic power by the early 21st century, focusing on advances in the military, technology, industry and agriculture fields. Court documents said the program involved “efforts to acquire scientific information and technology from the West.”)
In getting misappropriated information to the Chinese, Chung used methods such as mail and sea freight, as well as conduits including the Chinese consulate and Chi Mak.
He also visited China on numerous occasions, lecturing on space shuttle technology, and without reporting his travel or contacts with Chinese officials to his employers.
According to the trial judgment, he was advised to use cover stories for these visits, “such as traveling to Hong Kong, visiting relatives, or accompanying his wife to an arts academy” in China.
“The trust Boeing placed in Mr. Chung to safeguard its proprietary and trade secret information obviously meant very little to Mr. Chung,” Carney said when convicting him. “He cast it aside to serve the PRC [People’s Republic of China], which he proudly proclaimed as his ‘motherland.’”
Despite Mr. Chung's age, prosecutors requested a 20-year sentence, in part to send a message to other would-be spies.
But the judge said he couldn't put a value on the amount of information that Mr. Chung stole and couldn't determine exactly how much the breaches hurt Boeing and the nation. He also cited the engineer's age and frail health in going with a sentence of 15 years and eight months.
"It's very difficult having to make a decision where someone is going to have to spend the rest of their adult life in prison," Judge Carney said. "I take no comfort or satisfaction in that."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Staples noted in sentencing papers that Mr. Chung amassed a personal wealth of more than $3 million while betraying his adopted country.
"The [People's Republic of China] is bent on stealing sensitive information from the United States and shows no sign of relenting," Mr. Staples wrote. "Only strong sentences offer any hope of dissuading others from helping the PRC get that technology."
Mr. Chung's attorney, Thomas Bienert Jr., has said his client will appeal.
The government accused Mr. Chung, a stress analyst with high-level clearance, of using his 30-year career at Boeing and Rockwell International to steal the documents. They said investigators found papers stacked throughout Mr. Chung's house that included sensitive information about a booster rocket fueling system—documents that employees were ordered to lock away at the end of each day. They said Boeing invested $50 million in the technology over a five-year period.
During the nonjury trial, Mr. Chung's lawyers argued that he may have violated Boeing policy by bringing the papers home, but he didn't break any laws by doing so, and the U.S. government couldn't prove he had given secret information to China.
In his ruling, Judge Carney wrote that the notion that Mr. Chung was merely a pack rat was "ludicrous" and said the evidence showed that he had been passing information to Chinese officials as a spy.
The government believes Mr. Chung began spying for the Chinese in the late 1970s, a few years after he became a naturalized U.S. citizen and was hired by Rockwell.
Mr. Chung worked for Rockwell until it was bought by Boeing in 1996. He stayed with the company until he was laid off in 2002, then was brought back a year later as a consultant. He was fired when the FBI began its investigation in 2006.
When agents searched Mr. Chung's house that year, they discovered more than 225,000 pages of documents on Boeing-developed aerospace and defense technologies, according to trial briefs.
The technologies dealt with a phased-array antenna being developed for radar and communications on the U.S. space shuttle and a $16 million fueling mechanism for the Delta IV booster rocket, used to launch manned space vehicles.
Agents also found documents on the C-17 Globemaster troop transport used by the U.S. Air Force and militaries in Britain, Australia and Canada—but the government later dropped charges related to those finds.
Prosecutors discovered Mr. Chung's activities while investigating another suspected Chinese spy living and working in Southern California.
That man, Chi Mak, was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to export U.S. defense technology to China. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.