Be All The Spy You Can Be: Chinese Agent Who Joined U.S. Army Sentenced To Eight Years in Prison
By Paul Davis
In an article in the current issue of the Journal, I wrote about the uncovering of Chinese intelligence operatives in the United States. There has been additional malign activity, as Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco called Chinese intelligence operations in the U.S., since those listed in the article. Most notably is the Chinese spy balloon that crossed the United States and was finally brought down by U.S. aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean.
In another case of malign activity, last month a Chinese national living in Chicago was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for acting illegally within the United States as an agent of the People’s Republic of China. While the U.S. Army’s marketing slogan is “Be all you can be,” Ji Chaoqun modified the slogan to “Be all the spy you can be,” as the Chinese agent joined the U.S. Army Reserve.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, Ji Chaoqun was convicted last year on one count of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, specifically the People’s Republic of China, without first notifying the Attorney General; one count of acting as an agent of the People’s Republic of China without first notifying the Attorney General; and one count of making a material false statement to the U.S. Army. “Evidence presented at trial revealed that Ji worked at the direction of high-level intelligence officers in the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security (JSSD), a provincial department of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) for the People’s Republic of China,” stated the U.S. Justice Department.“Ji, a Chinese citizen residing in Chicago, was tasked by Xu Yanjun, a Deputy Division Director within the Ministry of State Security, with providing biographical information on certain individuals for possible recruitment by the JSSD.”
“The individuals included Chinese nationals who were working as engineers and scientists in the United States, some of whom worked for U.S. defense contractors.This tasking was part of an effort by the Jiangsu provincial department to obtain access to advanced aerospace and satellite technologies being developed by companies within the U.S.”
Xu was sentenced last year to 20 years in federal prisonafter being convicted in the Southern District of Ohio of conspiracy and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets.
According to the Justice Department, in 2016, Ji enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVI) program, which authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills are considered vital to the national interest.
“In his application to participate in the MAVNI program, Ji falsely stated that he had not had contact with a foreign government within the past seven years. In a subsequent interview with a U.S. Army officer, Ji again failed to disclose his relationship and contacts with a foreign intelligence officer,” the Justice Department stated. “Evidence at trial further revealed that in 2018 Ji had several meetings with an undercover law enforcement agent who was posing as a representative of the Ministry of State Security.
“During these meetings, Ji explained that with his military identification, he could visit and take photos of “Roosevelt-class” aircraft carriers. Ji also explained that once he obtained his U.S. citizenship and security clearance through the MAVNI program, he would seek a job at the CIA, FBI, or NASA. Ji intended to perform cybersecurity work at one of those agencies so that he would have access to their databases, including databases that contained scientific research.”
According to immigration records, Ji Chaoqun was born in China and arrived in the U.S. from Beijing, China on or about August 28, 2013, on an F1 Visa, for the purpose of studying in the U.S. He received his Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago in December 2015.
In May 2016, JI enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves as an E4/Specialist under the MAVNI program. On or about June 6, 2016, as part of the process for his application to participate in the MAVNI program, Ji electronically submitted Standard Form 86 (“SF-86”), a security clearance application.
In Section 20B of the SF86, Ji answered “No” to the following question: Have you or any member of your immediate family in the past seven years had any contact with a foreign government, its establishment (such as embassy, consulate agency, military service or security service, etc.) or its representatives, whether inside or outside the U.S.? (Answer ‘No’ if the contact was routine visa applications and border crossings related to either official U.S. Government travel or foreign travel on a U.S. passport.)
On or about December 6, 2017, also as part of the process for his MAVNI application, Ji underwent a Single Scope Background Investigation (“SSBI”) interview with a U.S. Army officer. As part of the interview, the officer reviewed Ji’s responses in the SF-86 with him. During the interview, Ji again failed to disclose his relationship and contacts with intelligence officers. At the conclusion of the interview, Ji signed a Department of the Army Form 2823, which is a sworn statement affirming to the truthfulness of the information that he provided during his interview.
The FBI and the U.S. Army 902nd Military Intelligence Group investigated the case.
After sentencing the Chinese spy, U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman said he was disturbed by Ji Chaoqun’s long-range plans. “It was his intent to become a long-term Chinese sleeper agent,” the judge noted. Ji Chaoqun has traded his U.S. Army uniform for an orange prison uniform.
Paul Davis, a long time contributor to the Journal, covers crime, espionage and terrorism in his Threatcon column.