Conservative Roof broke the story: a Chinese-born researcher, Gong Chenguang, found himself in hot water after being arrested by the Department of Justice in San Jose, California, on February 6. The allegations? Stealing trade secrets vital to U.S. national security efforts concerning nuclear missile detection and tracking ballistic and hypersonic missiles.
Court documents shed light on Gong’s background: born in China, he later earned his stripes, obtaining a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Clemson University before delving into doctoral studies at Stanford University. Eventually, in 2011, he proudly claimed U.S. citizenship.
Gong’s stint as an engineer at a Malibu-based research and development firm between January and April 2023 became the focal point of the allegations. This firm, dubbed the “victim company” by the DOJ, was knee-deep in projects crucial to military and space applications, especially concerning infrared sensor technology for missile detection, funded primarily through contracts with governmental agencies.
The plot thickens as court documents reveal Gong’s alleged misdeeds: between March and April 2023, he purportedly siphoned off 3,600 files from his company-issued laptop onto three personal storage devices. The FBI’s subsequent search of his temporary residence in Thousand Oaks uncovered hundreds of documents marked as confidential or proprietary to the company.
The gravity of the situation is underscored by the DOJ’s assertion that the technology Gong purportedly absconded with could pose a serious threat to national security if it fell into the wrong hands.
“Many of the files Gong allegedly transferred contained proprietary and trade secret information,” the DOJ stated, detailing the critical role of these files in developing systems to detect missile launches and track missiles, including ballistic and hypersonic ones.
But that’s not all. Gong’s alleged pilferage extended to the company’s cutting-edge “next-generation sensors,” designed to detect low observable targets and enhance survivability in strategic space applications.
The DOJ didn’t mince words, stating that the stolen data constituted the company’s “most important trade secrets worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” with certain files even labeled as “EXPORT CONTROLLED.”
In response to the incident, Donald Alway, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, emphasized the severity of trade secret theft, stressing its detrimental effects on national security, U.S. competitiveness, and the individuals and businesses investing in innovative technologies.
Gong’s employment with the company met an abrupt end in late April 2023 after his actions came to light.
Now facing charges of trade secret theft, Gong could be staring down the barrel of a maximum 10-year federal prison sentence, according to the DOJ.
NBC News reports that Gong made an appearance in a San Jose court on February 7, where he was granted release on a $2.5 million bond, subject to conditions including location monitoring and a curfew.
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