Chinese student accused of spying on US engineers

A Chinese citizen living in Chicago was arrested Tuesday for allegedly spying on U.S. engineers and scientists, including defense contractors, on behalf of the Chinese government, federal prosecutors said.

Ji Chaoqun, 27, has been charged with one count of knowingly acting in the U.S. as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification of the attorney general, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago. He allegedly worked at the direction of high-ranking intelligence officials with the People's Republic of China and was tasked with providing information about eight people for possible recruitment.

Ji made an initial appearance in federal court in downtown Chicago, looking tired and fidgeting as he stood before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael T. Mason. Ji huddled with a Chinese-language interpreter for much of the 15-minute hearing. But when the judge asked if he understood his rights, Ji lifted his head and said in English, "I understand."

If convicted on the one count, Assistant U.S. Attorney Shoba Pillay told the hearing that Ji faces up to 10 years in federal prison.

Through a lawyer, Ji also asked that the Chinese consulate be notified about his arrest. Judge Mason ordered that Ji remain in custody for now, and U.S. Marshal's agents handcuffed him and led him away. No additional hearings were immediately set.

A criminal complaint says Ji came to the U.S. in 2013 on a student visa to study engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves in 2016.