Federal authorities in Los Angeles have quietly charged four people in an alleged conspiracy to steal U.S. military secrets -- including a quiet propulsion system for Navy warships -- and turn over the intelligence to the People's Republic of China, it was learned late Thursday.
Though U.S. officials declined to comment, an FBI agent's 42-page affidavit unsealed earlier this week identifies the four suspects as Chi Mak and his wife, Rebecca Laiwah Chiu of Downey, and Chi's brother, Tai Wang Mak, and his wife, Fuk Heung Li, of Alhambra. Chi and his wife are originally from China and became naturalized U.S. citizens 20 years ago. Tai and his wife both entered the United States from China in May 2001 and are lawful permanent residents.
Rebecca Chiu's attorney, Michael Meza, described his client as a relatively minor player in the case. Attorneys for the other defendants could not be reached.
According to the affidavit filed by FBI Agent James E. Gaylord, federal authorities began their investigation after receiving information that Chi Mak, Tai Mak and Rebecca Chiu might be stealing government-owned information from Power Paragon, a subsidiary of L-3/SPD Technologies/Power Systems Group in Anaheim.
Gaylord's affidavit identifies Chi as the lead project engineer on a Power Paragon research project involving the Navy's so-called Quiet Electric Drive propulsion system, a technology so sensitive that it has been banned from export to certain countries, including China.
The FBI investigation has uncovered evidence that Chi transferred information about the propulsion system and other government projects from his workplace to his home and then copied the data so it could be delivered to his brother, Tai, according to the affidavit. Tai then encrypted the information with the assistance of an unidentified accomplice and made arrangements to take the encrypted data to China, Gaylord said.
All four suspects were arrested last Friday night after a federal judge issued a sealed arrest warrant based on the FBI's suspicion that Tai and his wife were about to leave the U.S. with the encrypted data on a midnight flight to Guangzhou.
"In this case, because I believe the targets are foreign intelligence agents who likely have escape plans in place and who are already worried about being caught, I believe good cause exists to authorize nighttime execution" of search and arrest warrants "to avoid the destruction of evidence and the escape of the targets," Gaylord said in his affidavit.
During its investigation, the affidavit said, the FBI employed court-authorized wiretaps and other surveillance during which agents allegedly overheard the suspects engaging in coded conversations.
Additionally, according to the affidavit, agents combing through the trash at Chi's residence found a number of documents torn into small pieces. Gaylord said one document was machine-printed in China and contained a list of military technologies that were being sought, including a space-based electromagnetic intercept system, submarine torpedoes and aircraft carrier electronic systems. A second document, hand-printed in Chinese, contained another nine related technologies, the affidavit says.
The defendants are scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 15.