Chinese national Haitao Xiang was indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday on three counts of theft of trade secrets, three counts of economic espionage, one count of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets and one count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, according to a November 21 press release from the DoJ.
Xiang, an employee of the Climate Corporation and its parent company Monsanto from February 2008 to June 2017, purchased a one-way ticket to China after severing ties with his employer, but was stopped by federal officials who seized copies of Monsanto’s Nutrient Optimizer - which the company considers “a valuable trade secret and their intellectual property” - from his person.
The Justice Department’s release described the Nutrient Optimizer as a “proprietary predictive algorithm” and explained it was also a key component of Monsanto and the Climate Corporation’s online agriculture platform which allowed farmers to maximize productivity through visualizing field data.
Though Xiang has been slapped with the charges, the Justice Department has also expressed its contempt for Beijing’s alleged espionage.
“The indictment alleges another example of the Chinese government using Talent Plans to encourage employees to steal intellectual property from their US employers,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in statement.
“Xiang promoted himself to the Chinese government based on his experience at Monsanto. Within a year of being selected as a Talent Plan recruit, he quit his job, bought a one-way ticket to China, and was caught at the airport with a copy of the company's proprietary algorithm before he could spirit it away.”
US law states that, if convicted, Xiang will face up to 10 years behind bars and receive a $250,000 fine for each theft of trade secrets charge, as well as a maximum of 15 years in prison and $5,000,000 in penalties for every espionage charge.
While the possible jail time and fines may appear drastic to some, John Brown, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, asserted that “economic security is national security” and claimed this case shows that China is “desperate” for “American ingenuity.”