Ex-Boeing engineer guilty in space shuttle spy case

Reuters | July 16, 2009
By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An ex-Boeing engineer was found guilty on Thursday of passing space shuttle technology secrets to China after becoming the first person tried under a 1996 federal law that bans theft of trade secrets for the benefit of a foreign government.

A federal judge who heard the case without a jury convicted Dongfan "Greg" Chung, 73, of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, economic espionage to benefit a foreign country, acting as an agent of the People's Republic of China and making false statements to the FBI.

"Mr. Chung has been an agent of the People's Republic of China for over 30 years," U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney said in his written verdict. "The court must now hold Mr. Chung accountable for his crimes."

Carney acquitted Chung, a naturalized U.S. citizen, on a count of obstruction of justice.

The China-born engineer, who had been free on $250,000 bail during his trial in Santa Ana, California, was immediately taken into custody. He could face decades in federal prison when he is sentenced on November 9.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorneys Office in Los Angeles, said that while about a half-dozen people around the nation have been charged under the Economic Espionage Act since 1996, Chung is the first defendant to be convicted at trial.

Defense attorneys argued that Chung had passed on only information that was already in the public domain.

"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," U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien said after the verdict.

"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 to develop its own military technology."

Chung had worked on the space shuttle since he was hired by Rockwell International in 1973 and continued while at Boeing. He retired in 2002 but returned to Boeing in 2004 as a contractor on the space shuttle, and remained on the job until his arrest in September of 2006.

Prosecutors say Chung, who was born in China, moved to Taiwan in 1948 and to the U.S. in 1962, becoming a naturalized citizen.

(Editing by Bill Trott)