Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A federal judge yesterday sentenced a Chinese-born U.S. engineer to 24 years in prison for his role in supplying sensitive military technology to China, saying he was sending a message to China’s intelligence services.

Chi Mak, who was convicted of supplying U.S. Navy technology data to China, also was fined $50,000 by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney, ending the case of a family spy ring.

“We will never know the full extent of the damage that Mr. Mak has done to our national security,” Judge Carney wrote in a statement filed for the sentencing. “A high-end … sentence will provide a strong deterrent to the [People’s Republic of China] not to send its agents here to steal American military secrets.”

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 an investigation of a spy ring that funneled defense technology to China, including details of U.S. submarine and warship technology.

Tai Mak and his wife were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on Oct. 28, 2005, as they sought to travel to China with computer disks containing encrypted technology related to the Navy’s Quiet Electric Drive that was being developed for use on Navy warships and submarines.

The technology was not classified but was restricted for export.

FBI agents also arrested a Chinese Ministry of State Security intelligence official at the airport as he videotaped the couple’s arrest. The officer was later released.

Mak, 65, of Downey, Calif., worked as an electrical engineer for the defense contractor Power Paragon and, according to a statement by prosecutors “orchestrated the conspiracy to obtain naval technology and to illegally export the material to the PRC.”

Mak, born in Guangzhou, China, was found guilty in May 2007 of conspiracy to violate export control laws and failing to register as a foreign agent.

“This lengthy prison sentence ensures that Chi Mak will never again steal American military secrets for the benefit of another nation,” U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said.

Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, said the sentence was “fitting punishment” for someone “convicted of working clandestinely on behalf of China in an effort to steal critical information about the U.S. Navy’s current and future warship technologies.”

Officials familiar with the investigation said Mak compromised details on the electrical power system in Virginia-class submarines that would allow China to track the submarines.

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