A Chinese national and US Army reservist living in Chicago was arrested Tuesday for allegedly funneling biographical information on eight American defense contractors targeted for recruitment to a Chinese intelligence officer, according to the Justice Department.
Ji Chaoqun, 27, was arrested for violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) - while his handler at a regional arm of China's Ministry of State Security (MSS) was also arrested, according to the DOJ affidavit. "The MSS has maintained both a clandestine and overt human source collection capability though a network of defense attaches, academics, and spies operating in and out of China," reads the filing.
While working from 2007 through late 2017 at an unnamed defense company described only as "among the world's top aircraft engine suppliers for both commercial and military aircraft," Chaoqun used the Apple iCloud to secretly communicate with the MSS about the eight individuals - all naturalized US citizens born in Taiwan or China now living in the United States - who were under consideration for recruitment.
"The Apple iCloud SMS database included approximately 36 messages between Intelligence Officer A and JI, from on or about December 19, 2013 to July 9, 2015" reads the affidavit.
According to the search warrant return, on or about August 30, 2015, an email was sent from JI, using Subject Account 1, to an email address hosted by "qq.com," stating, "eight sets of the midterm test questions for the last three years," which email was forwarded from Subject Account 1 to Intelligence Officer A. The subject line for the email was "Midterm test questions." Eight separate pdf documents were attached to the email. The eight separate pdf documents are background reports on eight US-based individuals generated by US-based companies Intelius, Inc., Instant Checkmate, and Spokeo.
The eight individuals are current or former technologists, "including several individual specializing in aerospace fields."
Chaoqun was born in China and arrived in the US from Beijing in August 2013 on an F1 Visa, before receiving his Master's Degree in Electrical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2015. In May, 2016 he joined the US Army Reserves under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program (MAVNI), which authorizes the US Armed Forces to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills are considered to be vital to the national interest.
He traveled to China on three occasions since his arrival in the US to meet his handlers in a hotel room, messaging: "Hi Big Brother, I'm JI Chaoqun. I'm taking the G203 [train] and will arrive at Nanjing South Station at 22:37"
Choaqun was arrested after an undercover FBI agent met with him on April 25 of this year, during which he "made multiple statements that corroborated the information revealed during the course of the investigation."