Former Defense Engineer Arrested for Taking Military Technology to China

A defense industry engineer spoke at a technology conference in China and is now facing up to 20 years in prison on charges of illegally exporting military data to China.

A former employee of a defense contractor based in New Jersey has been arrested and charged with transporting military data to China.

Sixing Liu, also known as Steve Liu, was arrested and appeared in United States District Court in Chicago on March 8. He faces one count of exporting defense-related technical data without a license. He was detained pending a bail hearing on March 14. He could face up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted.

Liu worked for an unnamed New Jersey-based technology company from March 2009 to November 2010 as a senior staff engineer, according to the Associated Press, citing the Federal Bureau of Investigation affidavit listing the charges against Liu. The company worked on "precision navigational devices" and other components for the U.S. Department of Defense, the complaint said.

Even though the company was not named in the affidavit, a search for "Steve Liu" on the professional social networking site LinkedIn brought up a profile of Steve Liu at L-3 Communications, the sixth largest defense contractor in the United States.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Liu's areas of expertise were "Space System, Tactical Navigation, Land Navigation, Inertial Navigation Systems, Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs), Inertial Flight Controls, and Ship's adaptive theory and steering system." His project involved the Micro Disk Resonator Gyroscope (DRG) and MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) chips to build complex aerospace navigation systems, according to the profile.

Messages to L-3 Communications to confirm his employment were not returned.

The FBI affidavit said Liu flew to China on Nov. 12, but was stopped by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents on his return on Nov. 29. During a screening, agents found a conference lanyard for a nametag amongst his luggage, even though he'd said he'd been visiting family, according to the affidavit. A more thorough search turned up a "folder containing multiple pages of technical language, pictures of military weapons systems and documents written in Chinese," wrote FBI Special Agent Lisa Lenches-Marrero in the affidavit, according to ComputerWorld.

The laptop also contained images of Liu making a presentation at a Shanghai technology conference. ComputerWorld identified the conference as the 4th Annual Workshop on Innovation and Commercialization of Micro & Nanotechnology, an international forum for nanotechnology researchers.

Although he was listed on the conference Website with his company affiliation, he'd never notified his employer and, according to company policy, he wasn't authorized to take project data outside of the company, the affidavit said.

The information on Liu's computer was considered sensitive military data that cannot be exported without a license, the criminal complaint stated. The U.S. State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls later verified that information on Liu's computer related to defense items listed on the U.S. Munitions List, according to the Star-Ledger. Information on the list require a license before it can be taken out of the country, and license requests are generally denied for countries upon which the United States has imposed an arms embargo, such as China.

"Liu took highly sensitive defense information to China, violating the rules of his company and the laws of this country," U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman told the Associated Press.

Born in China, Liu is a legal U.S. resident. He was arrested at his home in Deerfield, Ill.