The Daring Ruse That Exposed China’s Campaign to Steal American Secrets

How the downfall of one intelligence agent revealed the astonishing depth of Chinese industrial espionage.

By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

  • March 7, 2023

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In March 2017, an engineer at G.E. Aviation in Cincinnati whom I will refer to using part of his Chinese given name — received a request on LinkedIn. Hua is in his 40s, tall and athletic, with a boyish face that makes him look a decade younger. He moved to the United States from China in 2003 for graduate studies in structural engineering. After earning his Ph.D. in 2007, he went to work for G.E., first at the company’s research facility in Niskayuna, N.Y., for a few years, then at G.E. Aviation.

The LinkedIn request came from Chen Feng, a school official at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (N.U.A.A.), in eastern China. Like most people who use LinkedIn, Hua was accustomed to connecting with professionals on the site whom he didn’t know personally, so the request did not strike him as unusual. “I didn’t even think much about it before accepting,” Hua told me. Days later, Chen sent him an email inviting him to N.U.A.A. to give a research presentation.