In light of today's first-ever economic espionage conviction of Dongfan "Greg" Chung, 73, of Orange, it must be asked: How did the former Rockwell International and Boeing engineer get away with being a spy for China for so long?
Born in China, Chung was employed by Rockwell in Downey from 1973 until its space unit was acquired by Boeing in 1996. He worked at Boeing's Huntington Beach offices until retiring in 2002. But then he returned as a Boeing contractor the next year and remained until September 2006.
During all those years in the American defense industry and making trips that had him bouncing back and forth between the U.S. and China, Chung stole restricted technology and Boeing trade secrets, including information related to the Space Shuttle program and Delta IV rocket. But Chung did not come under suspicion until his name popped up in the investigation of another Chinese national, Chi Mak, who in 2006 was also convicted of spying for his homeland and sentenced to 24 years in federal prison. (R. Scott Moxley covered the case here.)
Chung was not arrested by FBI and NASA investigators until February 2008.
According to the FBI, Boeing cooperated completely with the investigation. And while racial profiling is bad and deeming someone innocent until they are proven guilty is good, one's got to wonder how one Chinese national in the defense industry making frequent trips to China was not found out until several years passed and his name turned up as a result of a case against another Chinese national.
Chinese aviation industry officials began sending Chung "tasking" letters as early as 1979, says the trial evidence. Between 1985-2003, he made multiple trips to China to deliver lectures on technology involving the Space Shuttle and other programs, and during those trips he met with government officials and People's Liberation Army agents. A 1987 letter produced in court was from a Chinese aviation ministry official inviting Chung's artist wife to visit an art institute to give Chung cover during the trip.
How many secrets was he passing along? The FBI:
On September 11, 2006, FBI and NASA agents searched Chung's house and found more than 250,000 pages of documents from Boeing, Rockwell and other defense contractors inside the house and in a crawl space underneath the house. Among the documents found in the crawl space were scores of binders containing decades' worth of stress analysis reports, test results and design information for the Space Shuttle.
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"The cost of Mr. Chung's traitorous actions to American security and the economy cannot be quantified, but have now been exposed, and his ability to exploit critical technology has come to an end," Salvador Hernandez, the assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, says in a bureau statement.
"Mr. Chung stole restricted technology for the benefit of a foreign nation, and as a result he has lost the freedom he was offered by this nation," adds U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien. "The stolen technology compromised not only the American company that developed and owned the trade secrets, but national security as well because the secrets could be used by the PRC [People's Republic of China] to develop its own military technology."
Federal Judge Cormac J. Carney, who presided over a three-week bench trial in Santa Ana, remanded Chung into custody this morning after convicting him of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, six counts of economic espionage to benefit a foreign country, one count of acting as an agent of the People's Republic of China and one count of making false statements to the FBI.
Chung is to remain behind bars until his scheduled Nov. 9 sentencing hearing. The maximum penalties for all the charges combined is 105 years behind bars and fines of $3.5 million.