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US Disruptive Technology Strike Force has struck

Former Apple engineer busted for stealing self-driving code, others accused of arranging illicit military tech transfers

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) on Tuesday announced charges against four people, including a former Apple engineer, in five cases related to technology theft for the benefit of adversarial nations China, Russia and Iran.

According to the DoJ, the former Apple engineer – a 2016-era employee who is also a PRC citizen – stole hardware, documents, and source code related to the iGiant's autonomous vehicle effort, Project Titan.

Four months before 35-year old Weibao Wang named left Apple, he allegedly took up secondary employment in the US with a China-headquartered company developing self-driving cars.

Once Wang left, Apple found he had accessed large amounts of sensitive and confidential information in the days before his departure. Authorities searched his house in 2018 and found Apple data. Wang then boarded a plane to China on a one-way ticket, despite declaring to authorities he had no plans to travel.

Although the US does not have an extradition treaty with China and Wang is unlikely to ever return, he faces a maximum of ten years in prison and $250,000 for each of the six counts of stealing or attempting to steal trade secrets.

Wang is one of two California-based software engineers included in the DoJ's announcement, accused of stealing automotive source code for use in China.

Senior software engineer Liming Li allegedly stole metrology software code used in "smart" automotive manufacturing equipment from two unnamed former employers and used it to build his own competing business in the Middle Kingdom.

The software is related to high-precision measurements often used in making 3D models, and is applicable to submarines, military aircraft and other industries under export controls, said the DoJ.

Such tech can only be exported if US authorities grant a a license.

The DoJ said a folder labelled "ChinaGovernment" on Li's employer-issued laptop contained company documents that prove his intention to provide export-controlled services and technology to both businesses and government entities in the Xi’s worker’s paradise. He also allegedly labelled folders containing stolen source code after his personal company, JSL Innovations.

Li was arrested in May when he arrived in California on a flight coming from Taiwan. He faces up to ten years imprisonment.

the two other cases involve the disruption of alleged procurement networks to help Russian military and intelligence. A Greek national allegedly gave the Russian government over ten types of tech and served as a procurement agent for individuals acting on behalf of the Kremlin. The DoJ alleged this chap pretended to be acquiring testing equipment used in quantum cryptography, nuclear weapons testing and tactical battlefield equipment for his employer Aratos – but funnelled it to Moscow. In the other case, two Russian nationals were accused of supplying banned materials, including braking technology, to Russian commercial airline companies.

The Greek national, Nikolaos "Nikos" Bogonikolos, was arrested in Paris and is awaiting extradition. The two Russian nationals, Oleg Sergeyevich Patsulya and Vasilii Sergeyevich Besedin, were arrested in Arizona and charged with conspiracy to violate the Export Control Reform Act (ECRA) and international money laundering.

The fifth case involves a Chinese national who allegedly assisted in providing Iran isostatic graphite – a material used in weapons of mass destruction – in contravention of US sanctions. The suspect, Xiangjiang Qiao aka Joe Hansen, is at large in China.

The cases are the first enforcement actions of the DoJ's recently launched Disruptive Technology Strike Force – a group co-led by the Department of Commerce.

"Protecting sensitive American technology – like source code for 'smart' automotive manufacturing equipment or items used to develop quantum cryptography – from being illegally acquired by our adversaries is why we stood up the Disruptive Technology Strike Force," said Matthew S. Axelrod, assistant secretary for export enforcement at the Department of Commerce.

The Force was announced in February of this year. ®

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