WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 28-year-old Chinese man pleaded guilty on Wednesday of attempting to smuggle military technology obtained from undercover U.S. agents out of the United States to China, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Bo Cai, an employee of a Chinese technology firm, was accused along with his cousin Wentong Cai, 29, of trying to illegally export sensors primarily manufactured for sale to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Wentong Cai, who was in the United States on a student visa, has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
The U.S. Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations prohibit the export of defense-related materials from the United States without a license or written approval from the U.S. Department of State.
"This prosecution demonstrates the federal law enforcement community’s commitment to safeguarding our nation’s military secrets by keeping America’s critical technology from falling into the wrong hands,” a Justice Department statement quoted Damon P. Martinez, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico, as saying.
The statement said that Bo Cai admitted enlisting Wentong Cai to acquire the sensors and that the cousin used the pretext that he would use them at Iowa State University, where he was a graduate microbiology student.
The two men were detained after obtaining a sensor from undercover U.S. Homeland Security agents in New Mexico in December after negotiations by email and phone.
Bo Cai was arrested at an airport in Los Angeles in December as he was preparing to board a flight to China. The sensor was discovered concealed in a computer speaker in his luggage, the statement said.
He faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years on the Arms Export Control Act charge, 10 years for smuggling and five years for conspiracy, it said.
Wentong Cai is in custody in New Mexico and is due to go on trial on Aug. 18.
U.S. accusations of spying by China have raised tensions between Washington and Beijing in recent months.
In May, the United States charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into American companies to steal trade secrets. China showed its anger over the allegations by shutting down a bilateral working group on cyber security.
Earlier this month, the New York Times quoted senior U.S. officials as saying that in March, Chinese hackers broke into the computer networks of the U.S. government agency that keeps the personal information of all federal employees.
The paper said the hackers appeared to be targeting files on tens of thousands of employees who have applied for top-secret security clearances. (http://nyti.ms/1mL8sRb)
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Ken Wills)