Feeds

Communist spy ring tried to steal Space Shuttle plans

Feds swoop as Chinese agents lift submarine and spaceship blueprints

The essential guide to IT transformation

A Chinese-American engineer was convicted by a federal court in California yesterday of conspiring to supply military technology to the People's Republic.

Chi Mak, a 66-year-old naturalised US citizen born in Guangdong Province, China, was found guilty of conspiracy to violate export regulations and of failing to register as a Chinese [import] agent after a six week trial. He now faces a maximum sentence of 35 years' imprisonment.

According to the Washington Times, Mak and his defence attorney shed tears after the verdict was read out. Sentencing is set for 10 September.

Mak's trial was only the first of a series involving members of his family and their alleged involvement in the plot to sell secrets to the communists. Prosecutors are also pursuing cases against Mak's brother Tai, both the brothers' wives, and Mak's son Billy.

Despite not having charged him with espionage, prosecutors said in court that Chi Mak had been "spying for China". He had been employed as an electrical engineer at Power Paragon, a defence contractor, and had worked on the US Navy's Quiet Electric Drive programme. This project is intended to equip new generations of American nuclear submarines with electric motors for their propellers, rather than drive shafts directly driven by reactor turbines. This could greatly increase the subs' ability to run silently, and confer other important benefits (article here for those interested).

Mak had apparently supplied his brother Tai with quiet-drive related documents which were then put on disc in order to be taken to China. The documents were unclassified, but were proprietary and export-controlled.

But at the last minute the feds stepped in, snapping the bracelets on Tai Mak and his wife at LAX in October 2005 as they were preparing to leave the US. Prosecutors allege that the pair intended to pass the information to Pu Pei-liang, a researcher at the Chinese Centre for Asia Pacific Studies at Zhongshan University, an organisation close to the People's Republic military. Chi Mak and his wife were collared subsequently at home.

It emerged during the trial that China also seeks to snaffle the secrets of the Space Shuttle - perhaps indicating that modern-day commie spies aren't fussy about the freshness of their stolen knowledge. Apparently another Mak relative, Gu Wei Hao, rashly tried to recruit an undercover fed as a go-between. Gu, a Chinese government official, had tried to obtain space shuttle tech from a Boeing engineer named Greg Chung. Gu was also involved in handling Chi Mak and the submarine-blueprints caper.

It was thought that after yesterday's success, prosecutors could be in a stronger negotiating position in plea bargaining with the remaining members of the Mak family spy ring.

The trial provided an insight into the ongoing efforts by the People's Republic to acquire sophisticated military technology from overseas. This will probably not be the last case of its type to come before Western courts. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
GCHQ protesters stick it to British spooks ... by drinking urine
Activists told NOT to snap pics of staff at the concrete doughnut
What do you mean, I have to POST a PHYSICAL CHEQUE to get my gun licence?
Stop bitching about firearms fees - we need computerisation
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
Oz biz regulator discovers shared servers in EPIC FACEPALM
'Not aware' that one IP can hold more than one Website
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.