China’s Special Brand of Sleeper Agents Caught Red-Handed

sleeper agent, sleeper, agent, china, U.S., DOJ

In espionage news, the Department of Justice’s recent arrest of a Chinese American brought China’s special brand of sleeper agents to the forefront.

  • Chenguang Gong stole information and blueprints from the tech companies that employed him.
  • If convicted, Gong faces a 10-year sentence in federal prison.

U.S. federal prosecutors have charged Chenguang Gong, a 57-year-old Chinese American engineer, with stealing trade secrets related to U.S. government technology.

Gong, who’s been a naturalized American citizen since 2011, worked from January to April 2023 at a Los Angeles-area research and development company. The company was identified in the court documents only as the victim company.

During his tenure, he allegedly transferred over 3,600 files from the company’s system to personal storage devices. The stolen files include blueprints:

  • Sophisticated infrared sensors designed for use in space-based systems to detect nuclear missile launches and track ballistic and hypersonic missiles.
  • Sensors designed to enable U.S. military aircraft to detect incoming heat-seeking missiles and take countermeasures, including by jamming the missiles’ infrared tracking ability.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) stressed the severity of the alleged theft, stating that the technology would pose a significant threat to U.S. national security if obtained by international actors.

To make matters worse, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada revealed that Gong had previously attempted to provide information to aid China’s military, marking a concerning pattern of behavior. In fact, during the investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) discovered that, from 2014 to 2022, while he was employed at major U.S. tech companies, “Gong submitted numerous applications to ‘Talent Programs’ administered by the People’s Republic of China government.”

The affidavit also explains that these programs help the Chinese government identify individuals outside the Republic who have beneficial expert skills and knowledge. This expertise would then play a role in improving China’s economy and military capabilities.

Gong attempted to propose several projects that mirrored his work for U.S. companies. He also traveled several times to China seeking funding. His latest trip dates back to March 2022.

For years now, the U.S. has been trying to hinder China’s technological advancements for fear of them being national security threats. Gong, however, turned out to be a Chinese sleeper agent by accident rather than design. We’re used to seeing and hearing sleeper agents as people who integrate into the target community as a potential asset for future use. You’ve seen the movie “Salt” starring Angelina Jolie, right? Granted, Jolie’s character turned out to be innocent, but you get the premise. And that’s how intelligence and other espionage organizations typically work.

However, the Chinese are anything but typical. Their 2017 National Intelligence Law mandates that Chinese intelligence agencies may ask relevant institutions, organizations, and citizens to provide necessary support, assistance, and cooperation. They believe that every person of Chinese nationality has a duty towards his country to provide what is asked of him, whether he is abroad or not.

Who would have thought that good old-fashioned espionage through special sleeper agents was far more likely to bring America’s destruction than a nuke?

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