On April 21, 2016, federal authorities formally charged 53-year old Amin Yu on an 18-count indictment for being a Chinese spy. She had operated discretely within the United States (U.S.) from 2002 until February 2014, and had supplied China with resources to develop their own underwater drone program.
Authorities believe Yu obtained submersible materials including underwater cables, connectors, and sonar from U.S., Canadian, and European and illegally exported it to Harbin Engineering University (HEU), a state-owned university in China. HEU conductsresearch and development (R&D) for the Chinese government and military.
Yu had worked for HEU as a researcher studying “underwater operated vehicles” until she came to the U.S. in 1998 according to the indictment. She owned two companies Amin International, based out of Mason, Ohio, and I-Four International, which she ran out of her home, to acquire the submersible parts.
Yu has been charged with conspiracy, acting in the U.S. as an illegal agent for a foreign government, money laundering, and filing out false export information. Her indictment comes just a week after another Chinese national Fuyi Sun was arrested by undercover agents in New York for paying them tens of thousands of dollars for carbon fiber that he said would be used by the Chinese military. Carbon fiber is usage is closely monitoredand often limited to U.S. or allied aerospace and defense industries.
These two cases come on heels as the federal government formally charged Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin of the U.S. Navy for divulging U.S. secrets to his native Taiwan and potentially to the China.
WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando, Florida discovered that Yu has been working at Central Florida University from August 2008 to February 2014 as an assistant in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
Receipts showed that she had been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years on equipment, and was using money wires from the People’s Republic of China to pay for it. Yu denied everything saying she was a part-time assistant at the university and made only $40,000 per year.
Authorities described an email from Yu’s server that at least one of the devices she ordered, an underwater acoustic locator, which would be used for an underwater drone.
FBI says economic espionage cases are up 53% from 2015. The theft of intellectual property costs the nation hundreds of billions of dollars per year.
The FBI notes that China adheres to a three-tier system of spy networks going after intelligence information. First, targeting current and former Chinese nationals who work for U.S. companies and research institutions. Second, involves bribing employees, theft, dumpster-diving, wiretapping and computer hacking. Third, establishing apparently innocent business associations with U.S. companies in order to obtain economic intelligence and proprietary information.
Chinese intelligence espionage is nothing new to the U.S. but has taken on a new intensity. In the past few Chinese spies had been caught due largely to relatively weak U.S. counterintelligence practices and minimal interest from the public.