A case of economic espionage

  • Published
  • By Dr. Deborah Kidwell
  • OSI Command Historian

In 2014, the Office of Special Investigations Office of Special Projects (PJ) initiated a joint investigation with the FBI into Yu Long, an employee of the United Technologies Corporation (UTC) in East Hartford, Conn. A Chinese national and lawful permanent resident, Long worked at UTC as a senior engineer/scientist on jet engines used in the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft at the United Technologies Research Center (UTRC) facility in Connecticut. 

Beginning in 2013, Long communicated his intent to individuals outside the company to return to China to work on research projects at Chinese universities using the knowledge and materials he acquired while employed at the UTRC. He was accepted into China’s Thousand Talents Program, a plan to recruit top scientific talent to make China the world’s leader in science and technology by the year 2050. Long interacted with several state-run institutions in China, including the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) and the Shenyang Institute of Automation (SIA). Long was asked and provided documents from his work at the UTRC, along with examples of projects he worked on to document claims he made in his application and during an interview. 

During 2013 and 2014, Long was highly sought by several Chinese universities and institutions. He eventually traveled to China with rafts of documents and data that contained highly sensitive intellectual property, trade secrets and export controlled technology, which he stole from the UTRC. 

In one email, Long wrote “I have made my mind to return to China, so have prepared a research plan based on my industry experience and current projects.” In the plan he said “In the past five years, I have been working with Pratt Whitney, also other UTC business units, like UTAS (including Hamilton Sundstrand and Goodrich), Sikorsky, CCS (including Carrier and Fire & Security), and Otis. These unique working experiences have provided me a great starting point to perform R&D and further spin off business in China. I believe my efforts will help China to mature its own aircraft engines.” 

Long’s crimes were soon discovered by investigators. When he returned to the U.S. in August 2014, a secondary customs inspection revealed he possessed $10,000 in undeclared U.S. cash and an application for work with the Shenyang Institute of Automation, which is affiliated with the CAS. 

In November 2014, Long attempted to fly to China from Newark Liberty International Airport with export-controlled and proprietary documents related to F-22 and F-35 engines. Further investigation revealed he travelled to China with an illegally obtained UTC hard drive, which he accessed while in country. Long was arrested on a federal criminal complaint in late 2014. 

Further investigation determined that the U.S. Air Force had convened a consortium of major defense contractors, including Pratt and Rolls Royce, to collaborate in efforts to lower the costs of certain metals. Part of these efforts involved sharing restricted technical data. When arrested, Rolls Royce confirmed that some of the documents found in Long’s possession were information provided to the consortium, and further indicated he never worked for the company.    

In late 2016, Long pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in the theft of trade secrets knowing that the offense would benefit a foreign government, foreign instrumentality or foreign agent, an offense that carries a maximum prison term of 15 years. He also pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful export and attempted export of defense articles from the U.S. in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years. Long was sentenced to two-and-a-half years of time served and deported to China.

OSI PJ agents played a crucial role in the case. While the FBI is responsible for investigating allegations for Department of Justice prosecutions, their agents do not have easy access to Defense contractors, nor can they navigate across the various offices and contracts the way that OSI PJ can. PJ agents were able to navigate between different contractors, program offices and senior U.S. government officials to gather relevant data to support the extradition, prosecution and sentencing. PJ agents worked directly with program offices, UTC and other involved companies to compile the evidence necessary to prosecute the case. 

OSI’s PJ agents clearly and successfully met the challenges of this case to provide national defense and foreign policy leaders with another example of Chinese theft of intellectual and military information gained through cyber-espionage and insider threat. PJ agents were able to explain the significance of the information Yu Long provided to his would-be employers. 

U.S. Acting Assistant Attorney General, Mary B. McCord, noted the grave nature of these revelations to U.S. national security, stating, “Long admitted to stealing and exploiting highly sensitive military technology and documents, knowing his theft would benefit China’s defense industry and deliberately contravene the embargo on U.S. Munitions List technology the United States had imposed on China…Export laws exist as an important part of our national security framework and disrupting and prosecuting this kind of economic espionage is one of the National Security Division’s highest priorities.”

The case prompted a fundamental shift in Air Force policy regarding the handling of unclassified research and development information.  Additional requirements were placed on the information, including marking and restricting Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) as contractual provisions incorporated into all Air Force contracts, especially in the control of technology and acquisition projects.