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A Chinese-born engineer convicted of conspiring to pass U.S. military secrets to the People's Republic of China was sentenced Monday to 24 years and five months in federal prison.
Chi Mak, 65, of Downey, Calif., was formerly employed by defense contractor Power Paragon. He was found guilty last May of trying to obtain U.S. Navy submarine technology and to illegally export that information to China.
"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 in a statement. "Chi Mak betrayed the United States and endangered our national security, as well as the brave men and women of our armed forces."
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, an investigation conducted by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service found that co-conspirators from the PRC instructed Mak to obtain specific defense information about current and future naval warship systems. Mak was advised to attend seminars to collect sensitive, restricted information discussed there and to compile that information on CD-ROM discs. Mak and his wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu, assembled the information on discs and gave the discs to Mak's brother, Tai Mak, whose son, Yui "Billy" Mak, helped encrypt the data on the discs. Officials discovered the discs in October 2005 when Tai Mak and his wife, Fuk Heung Li, tried to board a flight for China at Los Angeles International Airport.
The co-conspirators in the case all pleaded guilty following Chi Mak's conviction. Tai Mak and Chiu await sentencing in April and May, respectively. Li and Billy Mak were sentenced to time served and now await deportation to China.
Chi Mak's arrest in 2005 heightened concerns about espionage aimed at stealing high-tech secrets. Last November, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission declared that Chinese espionage represented "the single greatest risk to the security of American technologies."
Two separate arrests announced last month by the Justice Department suggest that risk has not diminished.
Tai Shen Kuo, 58, and Yu Xin Kang, 33, both of New Orleans, and Gregg William Bergersen, 51, of Alexandria, Va., were arrested in February on suspicion of espionage. They're charged with sending classified U.S. government documents and data to the government of China.
In a separate case, former Boeing employee Dongfan "Greg" Chung, 72, of Orange, Calif., was arrested in February for allegedly sending information about the space shuttle, the C-17 military transport plane, and the Delta IV rocket to China.
At the time these arrests were announced, a Justice Department spokesperson suggested that the two cases had some limited connection to the case of Chi Mak.