WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced a series of criminal cases Tuesday tracing the illegal flow of sensitive technology, including Apple's software code for self-driving cars and materials used for missiles, to foreign adversaries like Russia, China and Iran.
Some of the alleged trade secret theft highlighted by the department dates back several years, but U.S. officials are drawing attention to the collection of cases now to highlight a task force created in February to disrupt the transfer of goods to foreign countries.
“We are committed to doing all we can to prevent these advanced tools from falling into the hands of adversaries who wield them in a way that threatens not only our nation's security but democratic values everywhere,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, who heads the Justice Department's national security division.
One of the newly unsealed cases, in federal court in San Francisco, accuses a former Apple software engineer of taking proprietary data related to self-driving cars before his last day at the company in 2018 and then boarding a one-way flight to China on the night that FBI agents were conducting a search at his house. Prosecutors say the defendant, identified as Weibao Wang, is believed to be now working at a China-based autonomous vehicle competitor.
Other cases disclosed Tuesday have resulted in arrests.
One defendant, Liming Li, 64, was arrested earlier this month on charges that he stole thousands of sensitive files from his California employer, including technology that can be used in the manufacturing of nuclear submarines and military aircraft, and used them to help competing Chinese businesses.
Li has been in custody since his arrest. A lawyer who has been representing him declined to comment.
Additionally, two Russian nationals, Oleg Sergeyevich Patsulya and Vasilii Sergeyevich Besedin, were arrested in Arizona this month on charges of conspiring to send aircraft parts to Russian airline companies. Lawyers for both men did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.
The Justice Department also unsealed a separate criminal case accusing a Chinese national of conspiring to transmit isostatic graphite, a material that can be used in the nose of intercontinental ballistics, to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. And it charged a Greek national with participating in the smuggling of dual-use technology with a military application, including quantum cryptography, to Russia.
The departments of Justice and Commerce and other agencies earlier this year launched the Disruptive Technology Strike Force as a way to prevent U.S. adversaries from acquiring sensitive technology and address what officials said is a growing problem.
“Our greatest national security concerns stem from the actions of nation-states like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea — nation-states that want to acquire sensitive U.S. technology to advance their military capabilities with their ultimate goal being to shift the world's balance of power,” said Matthew Axelrod, an assistant secretary at the Commerce Department.