UCLA prof guilty of conspiring to steal missile secrets for China, could face more than 200 years in prison

A jury found an electrical engineer and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) professor guilty of exporting stolen U.S. military technology to China.

UCLA adjunct professor Yi-Chi Shih was convicted June 26 on 18 federal charges, Newsweek reported, and could now lose hundreds of thousands of dollars, while also facing up to 219 years behind bars for numerous violations of the law. These include conspiracy to break  the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), committing mail and wire fraud, lying to a government agency, subscribing to a false tax return, and conspiring to gain unauthorized access to information on a protected computer, according to a Department of Justice news release

Shih and co-defendant Kiet Ahn Mai tried to access illegally a protected computer owned by a U.S. company that manufactured semiconductor chips called monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs). MMICs are used by the Air Force and Navy in fighter jets, missiles and missile guidance technology, and electronic military defense systems. 

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The chips were exported to Chengdu GaStone Technology Company (CGTC), a Chinese company, without a required Department of Commerce license. Shih previously served as the president of CGTC, which made the Commerce Department’s Entity List in 2014 “due to its involvement in activities contrary to the national security and foreign policy interest of the United States – specifically, that it had been involved in the illicit procurement of commodities and items for unauthorized military end use in China,” according to court documents cited by the DOJ.

Shih “schemed to export to China semiconductors with military and civilian uses, then he lied about it to federal authorities and failed to report income generated by the scheme on his tax returns,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said, according to the DOJ release. “My office will enforce laws that protect our nation’s intellectual property from being used to benefit foreign adversaries who may compromise our national security.”

“The Department’s China Initiative is focused on preventing and prosecuting thefts of American technology and intellectual property for the benefit of China,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said, according to the release. “The defendant has been found guilty of conspiring to export sensitive semiconductor chips with military applications to China.”

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Shih has been serving as an adjunct professor of electrical engineering at UCLA. Campus Reform reached out to UCLA for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Defendants Shih and Mai were indicted in January 2018. Mai pleaded guilty in December to felony smuggling and faces up to 10 years in federal prison. Mai’s sentencing date is set for September 19, while Shih’s sentencing date is not yet scheduled.

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