Engineer guilty in plot to give data to China

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A Chinese-born engineer was convicted in federal court in California yesterday of being an unregistered Chinese agent who conspired to supply defense technology to Beijing.

Chi Mak, 66, was found guilty of helping provide China unclassified but export-controlled information, including data on a submarine electronic system and a quiet electronic propulsion system planned for future warships.

Mak was found guilty of conspiracy to violate export regulations and for failing to register as a Chinese agent, after several days of deliberations. The trial lasted six weeks.

“We were confident from the start, and we’re very happy with the verdict,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Staples said.

Sentencing was set for Sept. 10, and Mak faces up to 35 years in prison. Mak at first showed no emotion when the verdict was read but then appeared to fight tears as defense attorney Marilyn Bednarski teared up and rubbed his back.

Prosecutors dropped charges accusing Mak of exporting. They said Mak’s brother Tai Mak was the courier in the spy ring and will face those charges in a later trial.

The trial was the first in what U.S. officials say will be several cases involving a family spy ring that also included both Mak brothers’ wives and Tai Mak’s son Billy Mak. A second trial is set for June 5. Chi and Tai Mak were born in Guangdong, China; Chi Mak is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Prosecutors may try to use yesterday’s verdict to reach plea bargains with other family members.

Chi Mak was an electrical engineer at Power Paragon, a defense contractor for the Navy. Power Paragon is a subsidiary of L-3/SPD Technologies/Power Systems Group. Among the projects on which Mak worked were the Navy’s Quiet Electric Drive, which officials said is a high-technology system that will allow huge ship engines to run as quiet as a Lexus at idle.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Missakian said in closing arguments Monday that Mak was “spying for China” and sought to provide China’s military with “a window into the engine room of a submarine.” Mak denied he was a spy for China and said under defense questioning in the trial that he had done nothing wrong by supplying his brother Tai Mak with the defense technology documents, which prosecutors say Tai Mak had encoded on computer disks before traveling to China to give them to Pu Pei-liang, a researcher at the Chinese Center for Asia Pacific Studies at Zhongshan University, which has links to China’s military.

Investigators arrested Tai Mak and his wife at Los Angeles International Airport in October 2005 with the documents in their luggage that were labeled “proprietary” and “restricted” for export. Chi Mak and his wife were arrested at their home.

U.S. officials close to the case said the spying operation showed China’s sophistication at gathering defense technology to further Beijing’s rapid military buildup. The trial provided a rare look into the shadowy world of Chinese technology collection efforts in the United States.

During the trial, an FBI agent testified that a distant relative of Chi Mak, Gu Wei Hao, had tried to recruit him for work as a messenger.

The FBI identified Mr. Gu as a Chinese government official who had tried to obtain information on the space shuttle from a Boeing engineer named Greg Chung.

Letters from Mr. Gu also were found in a search of Mak’s home, and one of the letters told Mr. Chung to pass information through Mak because he was a relative.

“This channel is much safer than others,” Mr. Gu wrote.

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