A Chinese-born aerospace engineer who had access to sensitive material while working with a pair of major defense contractors in Southern California was sentenced Monday to more than 15 years in prison for acquiring secret space shuttle data and other information for China.
U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney in Santa Ana imposed a 188-month prison term on Dongfan “Greg” Chung, 73, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in Orange.
Carney declared that he could not “put a price tag” on national security and sought to send a signal to China to “stop sending your spies here,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Chung, who worked at Boeing’s Huntington Beach plant, denied being a spy and said he was gathering documents for a book, not for espionage. His attorneys argued that much of the material was already available on the public record.
At his sentencing, Chung professed his love for the United States, even as prosecutors depicted him as a spy who would compromise U.S. national security.
“Giving China advanced rocket technology is not in the United States’ national interest,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Greg Staples. “There is a voracious appetite for U.S. technology in China.”
Whether loyalty to his homeland or financial gain was Chung’s motive remained unclear. The case is one of a number of prosecutions that have shed light on alleged Chinese efforts to gain access to U.S. technology and research through espionage.
Chung was the first suspect tried with attempting to help a foreign nation under the terms of the 1996 Economic Espionage Act, passed to help prevent pilfering of sensitive economic information. Chung chose to have the case heard by the judge rather than a jury.
Chung was convicted last year on charges of economic espionage and acting as an agent for more than three decades while employed by Rockwell International and Boeing Co.
When Chung was convicted, Carney said the case revealed Chung’s “secret life” as a “spy” for China. The case against him arose from an investigation into another engineer, Chi Mak, who worked in the United States and obtained sensitive military information for China. Mak and several relatives were convicted of providing defense information to China, the U.S. attorney’s office said. Carney sentenced Mak to more than 24 years in prison in 2008.
Federal authorities said Chung stole restricted technology and trade secrets, including data related to the space shuttle and the Delta IV rocket.
“This case demonstrates our resolve to protect the secrets that help protect the United States, as well as the important technology advancements developed by scientists working for companies that provide crucial support to our national security programs,” acting U.S. Atty. George S. Cardona said Monday in a statement.
Chung held a “secret” security clearance when he worked at Rockwell and Boeing on the space shuttle program, authorities said. He retired in 2002 but the next year returned to Boeing as a contractor, a position he held until September 2006, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Between 1985 and 2003, Chung made trips to China to deliver lectures on technology involving the space shuttle and other programs, the government said. During those trips, Chung met with Chinese government officials, including military agents, U.S. authorities said.