Yet another Chinese national who took part in the US Army’s “service for citizenship” program has been arrested on charges of spying for Red China, the Department of Justice has announced—adding to the already long list of Chinese spies arrested in America over the past few years.
According to an official statement issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs, Ji Chaoqun, 27, a Chinese citizen residing in Chicago, was arrested for “acting within the United States as an illegal agent of the People’s Republic of China.”
The arrest and complaint were announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch, Jr. for the Northern District of Illinois, and Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey S. Sallet of the FBI’s Chicago field office.
Ji worked at the direction of a high-level intelligence officer in the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, a provincial department of the Ministry of State Security for the People’s Republic of China, according to a criminal complaint and affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Ji was tasked with providing the intelligence officer with biographical information on eight individuals for possible recruitment by the JSSD, the complaint states. The individuals included Chinese nationals who were working as engineers and scientists in the United States, some of whom were U.S. defense contractors, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, Ji was born in China and arrived in the United States in 2013 on an F1 Visa, for the purpose of studying electrical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
In 2016, Ji enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves as an E4 Specialist under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, which authorizes the U.S. Armed Forces to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills are considered vital to the national interest.
In his application to participate in the MAVNI program, Ji specifically denied having had contact with a foreign government within the past seven years, the complaint states.
In a subsequent interview with a U.S. Army officer, Ji again failed to disclose his relationship and contacts with the intelligence officer, the charge alleges.
The Mavni program expedites citizenship for certain immigrants with critical skills in languages and medicine who are recruited into military service.
Nearly 11,000 “immigrants” have joined the US armed forces through the Mavni program since it began in 2008. The program was officially suspended in 2016 over security concerns, and the Pentagon imposed a stricter vetting process on hundreds of recruits who had already joined Mavni.
In a related development, the US Department of Justice also revealed that a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Vietnam, Nghia Hoang Pho, was sentenced to 66 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, for willful retention of classified national defense information.
According to court documents, Pho removed massive troves of highly classified national defense information without authorization and kept it at his home.
According to his plea agreement, beginning in April 2006, Pho was employed as a developer in Tailored Access Operations (TAO) at the National Security Agency (NSA). NSA is a component of the U.S. intelligence community and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
The NSA’s TAO involved operations and intelligence collection from foreign automated information systems or networks, as well as actions taken to prevent, detect and respond to unauthorized activity within DoD information systems and computer networks, for the United States and its allies.
Pho held various security clearances in connection with his employment, including Top Secret and Top Secret // Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). Pho had access to national defense and classified information and worked on highly classified, specialized projects.