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Intel engineer turned chip spy pleads guilty

The roadmap to jail

A former Intel engineer who worked on the company's Itanium processors for servers and who is accused of stealing documents relating to future processor designs and chip fabrication processes has pleaded guilty to the charges.

According to various reports – (here's one from Reuters and another from Bloomberg) Biswamohan Pani, an engineer who worked on Itanium processor designs from Intel's Hudson, Massachusetts facility, admitted to stealing documents from Intel while he was under the employ of rival Advanced Micro Devices and without the knowledge or consent of AMD.

The rogue employee was charged by the FBI in August 2008 with stealing a stack of documents, including 19 CAD designs for chips and more than 100 pages of confidential documentation relating to processors under way at Intel.

Pani quit his job at Intel on May 29 that year and said he wanted June 11 to be his last day on the job. During those two weeks, he was two-timing it, while burning his accrued vacation, since he actually started a new job at AMD on June 2.

The following November, the FBI slapped additional charges on Pani, who told Intel that he was leaving the company to go work for a hedge fund rather than rival AMD and who, according to the FBI, had not told AMD the shenanigans he was up to with the downloads.

While on vacation and under the employ of AMD, Pani used his Intel-issue laptop to download the files, and only during his exit interview did Pani tell Intel that he was not going to a hedge fund, but to rival AMD.

In a fit of hubris, Pani cloned his Intel machine and even tried to get back into the Intel data repositories after his exit interview (he was only able to get past the first login step because Intel was on to him at that point).

Depending on which report you read, Pani said he only took the documents out of "curiosity" or to "impress" his future employer.

Intel's lawyers have valued the documents at somewhere between $200m and $400m, although in reality, if Pani had tried to sell the documents, no IT company in the world would pay that much for them - or could do so without setting off all kinds of compliance bells and whistles. (Can you say Olympus?)

Pani has been charged with one count of stealing trade secrets, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, and four counts of wire fraud, which each carry a maximum of 20 years.

By pleading guilty, Pani is throwing himself on the mercy of the courts. He is to be sentenced on August 8 at the US District Court in Worcester, Massachusetts. ®

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