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China Spy Exposed By Google


Introduction To The Espionage

China has been shamelessly caught spying once again.

In a bombshell indictment, the U.S. has accused former Google software engineer Linwei Ding of brazenly stealing invaluable artificial intelligence secrets and passing them covertly to China.

But this latest intrigue simply underscores the unrelenting hunger China shows to undermine competing countries like the U.S in several industries including technology.

With all of its covert methods from buying lands, to supplying suspicious equipment, to even using its student body to commence its spying while studying abroad, China proves to be relentless and not stopping any time soon, while the United States is attempting to stand firmly against the eastern threat.

China Was Caught, Again..

In recent news that should be shocking but is not in this day and age, a recent indictment filed in California against a former Google software engineer named Linwei Ding has been charged by the United States government with stealing trade secrets related to artificial intelligence while secretly working for two Chinese companies.

Ding, who also went by the name Leon Ding, was arrested on Wednesday on four separate criminal charges. If all charges lead to conviction, then he is looking to face up to 10 years in prison with a $250,000 in fines for each charge, amounting to a maximum sentence of 40 years behind bars and fines totaling $1 million.

The Chinese national allegedly stole over 500 confidential files from Google containing highly sensitive information about the infrastructure and inner workings of the technology giant’s advanced supercomputing data centers, which are utilized to host and train large artificial intelligence models.

Ding was hired by Google as a software engineer in 2019, and his job responsibilities included developing the very software he has been accused of stealing.

According to the indictment, Ding began illicitly uploading proprietary information from Google’s internal network to a personal Google account in May 2022.

He then went on and continued these unauthorized uploads periodically over the next year until his actions were eventually detected by Google.

During this time, Ding spent several months working in China for Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology, a start-up tech company focused on artificial intelligence that approached him with a lucrative job offer, and as such, he was offered a monthly salary of $14,800 to serve as Rongshu’s Chief Technology Officer.

On top of all that, Ding also allegedly started his own tech company in China called Shanghai Zhisuan Technology, purportedly focused on AI and machine learning technologies and appointed himself the CEO.

Neither Rongshu nor Zhisuan have provided comments on their involvement with Ding as of this moment.

The prosecutors on this case have pointed out that Ding has failed to inform Google about his work with either Chinese company, and thus was in direct violation of his employment contract and non-disclosure agreements.

The indictment further states that Ding applied to a Chinese government-affiliated organization for assistance in developing his new AI startup and even presented plans for the company at a technology investor conference held in China in November 2022.

The very next month, he was flagged by Google for attempting to upload additional proprietary files from within China to his personal account. When questioned by Google’s security team, Ding claimed he was only accessing the files to provide proof of his employment with Google.
Google was suspicious and promptly suspended his access privileges before opening an internal investigation that revealed his months-long pattern of unauthorized uploads, at which point Google immediately reported their findings to government authorities.

Speaking on behalf of the Justice Department, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asserted that Ding was seeking personal enrichment by covertly transferring American technological innovations to Chinese companies looking to gain an advantage in the ongoing AI arms race between the two superpowers.

Garland declared that the United States government will not tolerate such blatant theft of artificial intelligence and other sensitive technologies that could potentially undermine national security.

Similarly, FBI Director Christopher Wray suggested Ding’s alleged actions demonstrate the extraordinary lengths to which some Chinese companies will go to steal American innovation and intellectual property.

Why is this not shocking in the slightest you may ask? Because this is the latest in a long list of Chinese spy operations, fueled by their extensive competition with the United States.

China Chip Problems

The United States and China have been locked in an increasingly tense trade battle in recent years and especially under the Biden administration, with both sides aiming to secure dominance in key strategic industries, like the semiconductor industry for example.

Semiconductors, also known as computer chips, represent a $500 billion market that experts project will double in size by 2030.

Dominance over the complex supply chains that produce these tiny silicon chips equates to leadership in technological innovation and economic competitiveness.

China aims to develop its domestic capacity to design and manufacture advanced semiconductors. However, the United States, home to much of the essential semiconductor technology, is currently blocking China’s access.

By imposing tariffs and sanctions on China and working closely with countries like Taiwan or South Korea, where the chips are assembled, the United States has the technological edge on China, and as such tensions and stress has boiled to its limit and China is looking to circumvent its loss through other alleged nefarious means.

These nefarious means are many, and as stated earlier, mister Ding is certainly not an outlier.

Persistent and Nosy, The China Spying Experience

The Chinese have a long history of spying, especially in countries like the United States.

Sometimes their methods are subtle, and other times they become worldwide news, like the most recent example of the Chinese balloon spy that was talked about everywhere around the world early last year.

In similar cases to mister Ding, and in the technology department, former General Electric engineer Zheng Xiaoqing smuggled confidential files from his employer General Electric using steganography – a technique for hiding data within other data.

Zheng embedded stolen data files into the binary code of digital images like a sunset photo, which he then emailed to himself.

The files contained sensitive information about GE’s gas turbine and steam turbine design and manufacturing, including blades and seals. Considered commercially valuable trade secrets, the data was sent to an accomplice in China for the ultimate benefit of Chinese government agencies and corporations.

Some of the slightly more subtle ways China does their spying, and especially in the United States, is through cell phone equipment and cell towers.

Cell towers utilizing technology from “Huawei”, a Chinese firm, surround rural areas that are sprawling with complex underground silos that house over 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear capability.

U.S. authorities have strongly warned against using this technology over security vulnerabilities but some small rural providers choose to deploy the much cheaper Chinese-made equipment, potentially allowing covert monitoring.

Chinese state-affiliated entities have also pursued numerous development projects near sensitive American governmental and military facilities.

In one instance, China proposed spending $100 million to build an ornate Chinese garden beside the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Counterintelligence agents noticed the 70-foot pagoda planned for the site sat on a strategically valuable high point for signals interception and its construction materials were to be shipped via protected diplomatic pouches, avoiding inspection. Federal officials, unsurprisingly and quietly rejected the project.

Other covert spying cases include Chinese land purchases near critical infrastructure sites, regional consulates suspected of housing spies, and surveillance devices planted near governmental and military facilities.

Cases unearthed by the FBI include Chinese-made Huawei equipment commissioners believe capable of disrupting vital defense communications.

Sometimes alleged Chinese operations are so subtle that they blend in with objective reality, and this is starkly apparent with the U.S. intelligence warning regarding Chinese students being covert spies.

In 2015, Chinese student Ji Chaoqun allegedly emailed U.S. defense contractor documents to an intelligence officer in China labeled “Midterm test questions.”

This raised suspicions and launched an FBI investigation uncovering Ji’s alleged role as an intelligence asset recruiting potential spies. Ji was arrested in 2018 and formally indicted on charges of illegally acting as a foreign agent.

U.S. officials say China aggressively exploits expatriate students and academics to steal American research and technology secrets.

With over 350,000 Chinese studying in the U.S. counterintelligence monitoring remains challenging with the caveat that most students are acting lawfully and the ones that are not are actually in the United States for studying as well, which gives them the advantage of blending in as seamlessly as possible.

But the latest charges serve as a warning that the US will not tolerate theft of its hard-earned intellectual property, even by insiders at flagship technology leaders like Google.

However, the Chinese possess immense determination and patience to chip away at America’s edge by any means necessary.

As the geopolitical rivalry intensifies, corporate espionage cases on both sides will likely persist and even accelerate. For now, the cat and mouse game of spies stealing secrets continues unabated.

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