Details of U.S. Navy advanced engine-silencing technology for submarines were disclosed in court documents last week during an appeal hearing for convicted Chinese spy Chi Mak.
A federal judge in California last week refused a new trial for the Chinese-born defense contractor who was convicted last year of conspiring to export defense technology to China.
U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney rejected a motion from Mak that said the laws he violated were vague and methods used during trial by prosecutors were improper. Sentencing was set for March. Mak could receive a maximum prison term of 45 years.
Meanwhile, relatives of Mak, including sister-in-law Fuk Li and nephew Billy Mak, were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Wednesday and are being deported, an ICE spokeswoman said.
The two relatives pleaded guilty last summer to related spy charges. The convictions opened the way for ICE to initiate deportation proceedings.
“This woman and her son freely admitted their role in a chilling scheme to turn over sensitive defense information to the Chinese,” said Jennifer Silliman, deputy special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in Los Angeles. “Given their reckless disregard for our nation’s security, ICE’s goal is to remove them from the United States and ensure they will never again be able to call their adopted country home.”
Chi Mak, his wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu, his brother Tai Mak and Tai Mak family members Fuk Li and Billy Mak were arrested in 2005 as part of a spy ring that funneled defense technology to China, including details of U.S. submarine and warship technology.
Tai Mak and Fuk Li were arrested Oct. 28, 2005, at Los Angeles International Airport as they sought to travel to Hong Kong carrying a computer disk that U.S. officials said contained restricted technology for the Navy’s Quiet Electric Drive (QED) technology.
FBI agents also arrested a Chinese Ministry of State Security official operative at the airport as the intelligence officer videotaped the couple’s arrest. The officer was later released.
Mak’s motion to retry or dismiss the case stated that a U.S. government witness improperly testified about the QED, which uses special technology to dampen engine noise, a key strategic technology that requires a license to export and is barred from transfer to China.
A rebuttal document written by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory W. Staples countering the retrial motion stated that QED is an electrical process where “step-mode switching is combined with pulse-width modulation to create a so-called perfect sine wave.” That process is called “cascading multi-level inverter” and “produces quieter motors.”
“The QED document that [Mak] was convicted of attempting to pass included a discussion of the QED/ inverter technology but was not limited to it,” the document stated. “Rather, that document discussed a particular topology or methodology of powering a submarine.”
Judge Carney stated in his ruling that QED is meant to “reduce harmonic distortion from an engine, thereby making the engine run more quietly.”
It is not known whether China obtained the silencing technology from the Mak family spy ring. U.S. intelligence officials said the arrests were ordered in 2005 because of Navy concerns that China would obtain what the government had said is sensitive but unclassified technology.