San Jose engineer accused of stealing sensitive missile technology, trade secrets

San Jose engineer accused of stealing sensitive missile technology, trade secrets

A San Jose engineer working for a Southern California company was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of stealing sensitive missile technologies developed for use by the U.S. government, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Chenguang Gong, 57, is a native of China but became an American citizen in 2011, the government said. 

Gong has been federally charged with allegedly stealing trade secrets.

Prosecutors allege he transferred more than 3,600 files to his own personal storage devices from the Los Angeles-based research and development company he worked for. These files included blueprints for sophisticated nuclear missile launch detection systems and technology to detect and then jam incoming missiles’ infrared tracking abilities, among other technologies. Investigators allege they found these files in devices seized from Gong at his residence in Thousand Oaks. 

The company Gong worked for, referred to by prosecutors as the “victim company,” invested tens of millions into developing the technology, the U.S. Department of Justice said, and it “would be dangerous to U.S. national security if obtained by international actors.” 

Gong was hired by the company in 2023 to work on infrared sensor technology. Though he only worked there for less than a month, prosecutors allege he transferred thousands of files from his work laptop to three personal storage devices. A week into his job there, he accepted another job at the victim company’s competitor and allegedly transferred 1,800 files from “victim company” during that time as well. Many of the files the government alleges Gong stole were marked “For Official Use Only,” “Proprietary Information,” and “Export Controlled.” 

Though the government has not charged Gong with selling the secrets or providing them to the People’s Republic of China or any other entity, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada on Wednesday released a statement about Gongs relationship with that country.

“Mr. Gong, who had previously sought to provide the People’s Republic of China with information to aid its military, stole sensitive and confidential information related to detecting nuclear missile launches and tracking ballistic and hypersonic missiles,” said Estrada. “We know that foreign actors, including the PRC, are actively seeking to steal our technology, but we will remain vigilant against the threat by safeguarding the innovations of American businesses and researchers.” 

Investigators learned that Gong had applied to so-called “Talent Programs” sponsored by the People’s Republic of China, which prosecutors describe as a way that China “identifies individuals located outside the PRC who have expert skills, abilities and knowledge that would aid in transforming the PRC’s economy, including its military capabilities.”

Prosecutors allege that Gong applied to these Talent Programs between 2014 and 2022 while he was employed at several different technology companies. He allegedly travelled to China several times to seek such funding and continued to do so until 2022. 

Prosecutors allege that Gong sent an email in Chinese wherein he remarked that he “took a risk” by traveling to China to participate in the Talent Programs “because [he] worked for… an American military industry company” and thought he could “do something” to contribute to China’s “high-end military circuits.” 

If convicted of theft of trade secrets, Gong is facing up to ten years in federal prison, prosecutors said.  

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