Chinese American Who Allegedly Stole US Missile Detection Technology Was Part of CCP’s ‘Thousand Talents Plan’

Chinese American Who Allegedly Stole US Missile Detection Technology Was Part of CCP’s ‘Thousand Talents Plan’

The Edward R. Roybal Federal Building in Los Angeles, where Chenguang Gong will be on trial. (Bin Han/The Epoch Times)

Lear Zhou

Lear Zhou

3/6/2024

Updated: 3/6/2024

SAN FRANCISCO—Chenguang Gong, a Chinese American who has been accused of stealing U.S. infrared missile detection technology, was listed as one of 558 “young talents” in the 12th Thousand Talents Plan run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2016.
The list of talents was issued by the Task Force Office of Overseas High-Level Talent Recruitment Programs under the Organization Department of the Central Committee of the CCP.
A complaint by the U.S. Attorney’s Office claimed that Mr. Gong transferred 3,600 files from his work laptop to three personal storage devices from March 2023 to April 2023.
It also claimed that Mr. Gong possessed in his personal storage devices files marked as “confidential” that appeared to belong to several of Mr. Gong’s former employers. These devices were taken from his temporary residence in Thousand Oaks, California, following an FBI search on May 8, 2023.
Mr. Gong, 57, of San Jose, was arrested on Feb. 6 and was bailed out on a $2.5 million bond following a hearing in San Jose the next day. He was indicted on Feb. 27 by the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s Office, making it a formal criminal case.
The case has since been transferred to the Central District Court in Los Angeles, where Mr. Gong made his first appearance on Feb. 20.
A post-indictment arraignment hearing will be decided upon soon.

The Thousand Talents Plan

The Chinese regime offers hefty financial incentives—including research funding, salaries, and housing—via many different talent recruitment programs to entice overseas Chinese and foreign experts into working in China’s science and tech sectors.
Through these programs, the CCP hopes to quickly turn China into an industrial and innovation powerhouse, one that ultimately outperforms Western countries.
The program known as the Thousand Talents Plan was initiated in 2008 and went underground after U.S. authorities realized its underlying goal in 2018.
The FBI explains on its website that all of China’s talent plans incentivize their participants to steal foreign technology. The website states that while the United States welcomes international collaboration in research and development, American businesses should take measures to keep their intellectual property safe and should understand that talent plans encourage illegal conduct.
“Even if talent plan participants who steal information are eventually caught and prosecuted, the damage done to your organization by intellectual property theft may be irreversible,” the FBI warns.

The ‘Victim Company’

Pamela Reese, director of the Malibu-based company Marketing & Communications of HRL Laboratories, confirmed with The Epoch Times in an email that it is the “Victim Company” mentioned in the complaint. Mr. Gong worked with the company’s Visual Systems Laboratory from January 2023 to late April 2023.
“When HRL became aware of suspicious activity being conducted by Gong, the company immediately began an investigation, terminated his employment, and notified relevant authorities,” Ms. Reese said. “HRL has continued to cooperate with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) on its case against Gong and will provide ongoing support as needed.”
HRL Laboratories is under active contract to develop new sensors with enhanced performance for use in space-based missile warning and tracking, space-based surveillance, and airborne infrared countermeasures systems, including by the U.S. Department of Defense.
The alleged stolen trade secrets include methods, designs, techniques, processes, specifications, testing, and manufacture of the advanced Readout integrated circuits used in HRL’s infrared sensors, and the mechanical cooling systems of these circuits.
The sophisticated integrated circuits technology is required to achieve low noise, a high dynamic range, a high resolution, and a fast readout rate when collecting electrical signals from infrared photodetector arrays and outputting the data in a standard format.
These trade secrets are foundational technologies that support the business of HRL Laboratories, Leslie Momoda, executive vice president of the company, told FBI agents according to the complaint.
If other entities were to obtain the designs or development roadmaps for these key technologies, they would be able to replicate and improve them, making HRL less competitive, according to Ms. Momoda.
“Additionally, if the Victim Company’s Trade Secret Information was obtained by a foreign government, it would compromise U.S. national security,” Ms. Momoda told the FBI agents.

Suspicious Resignation

“As a top physical science and engineering research organization who regularly works with U.S. government customers, HRL has robust information security practices designed to detect and document suspicious activity,” Ms. Reese told The Epoch Times.
However, according to the complaint, HRL Laboratories only began monitoring Mr. Gong’s network activity right after he sent in his resignation on April 14, 2023, claiming that he was not doing a good job.
The resignation was suspicious because Mr. Gong had been working for HRL for less than three months, and he had performed well.
Daniel Maier, Director of Security of HRL Laboratories, told FBI agents that his department discovered that between March 30, 2023—two weeks before Mr. Gong submitted his resignation—and at least April 25, 2023, Mr. Gong transferred more than 3,600 files from his work laptop to three personal storage devices, a Verbatim USB flash drive and two Western Digital disk drives.
Vice President of Vision Systems Lab Raphael Ricardo told FBI agents that Mr. Gong was given access to the HRL’s full data repository in light of Mr. Gong’s managerial role. In other words, Mr. Gong was granted access to the full history, specifications, and roadmap of HRL’s products.
“It would also have required time and effort to export hundreds of CAD design files, which contained the technical blueprints for the Victim Company’s products and technologies, from the Victim Company’s UNIX system to a Microsoft Windows operating system,” FBI special agent Igor Neyman wrote in his affidavit attached to the complaint.
So far, only the Verbatim USB flash drive was found when the security team of HRL searched Mr. Gong’s belongings on April 26, 2023. The FBI believes the flash drive was used as temporary storage due to its relatively low capacity.
The FBI didn’t locate the two Western Digital drives or another possible digital device that contains files transferred from the intermediate Verbatim flash drive.

Theft From Other Companies

“GONG took and retained thousands of documents, stored on a variety of digital devices, that appear to belong to several of GONG’s former employers,” the complaint states. “Many of these documents bear confidentiality markings indicating their sensitive nature.”
The relevant companies Mr. Gong has worked with include Texas Instruments (“Company 2,” from 2010 to May 2014) and international defense, aerospace, and security company BAE Systems Inc. (“Company 3,” from May 2015 to October 2019).
A proposal of a high-performance AD/DA converter, which Mr. Gong submitted multiple times to various Chinese entities, appears to relate to technology Mr. Gong worked on at Texas Instruments, the complaint states.
The applications of the proposal in 2013 and 2014 allowed Mr. Gong to get onto the 2016 Thousand Talents Plan’s “Young Talents” list.
The FBI found CAD files containing the technical designs and blueprints for integrated circuits or other products from at least “Company 2” and “Company 5” in Mr. Gong’s personal digital devices that were confiscated following a search warrant, according to the complaint.
“I took a risk (because I worked for [Company 3], an American military industry company) and thought I could do something for the country’s high-end military integrated circuits,” Mr. Gong wrote in a letter to a talent plan recruiter after he traveled to China in September 2019 to attend an in-person presentation regarding his high-performance converter proposal in Hangzhou.
In a video presentation included with Mr. Gong’s 2020 submission, Mr. Gong used a video containing the model number “LTN4323” of a high-performance 4K resolution CMOS sensor developed by BAE Systems Inc.
Mr. Gong stated that his product extensions included a “low-light/night vision dual-use CMOS image sensor” for use in military night vision goggles and civilian applications.
Mr. Gong faces 10 years in federal prison if convicted.
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Lear Zhou

Lear Zhou

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Lear is a reporter based in San Francisco covering Northern California news.

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