On Wednesday, Chinese businessman Su Bin, 51, was given a four-year prison sentence, plus a $10,000 fine, for his role in “conspiring to gain unauthorized access to a protected computer, and to violate the Arms Export Control Act.”
The conspiracy involved working with two as-yet unnamed hackers in China to steal U.S. military information between 2008 and 2014. “The men targeted fighter jets such as the F-22 and the F-35, as well as Boeing’s C-17 military cargo aircraft program,” according to court records cited by CBS News.
Su, who worked in the aerospace industry, would send the Chinese hackers emails telling them which technology to steal and helped them translate the material from English to Chinese.
The Washington Post describes Su’s co-conspirators as “military officers in China,” and portrays his guilty plea as “a first for someone involved with a Chinese government campaign of economic cyberespionage.”
Su was arrested in Canada and extradited to the United States, where he pled guilty to cyber-crime charges in March. He said he committed the crimes “for the purpose of financial gain and specifically sought to profit from selling the data that he and his co-conspirators illegally acquired” when entering his guilty plea.
“Su Bin’s sentence is a just punishment for his admitted role in a conspiracy with hackers from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force to illegally access and steal sensitive US military information,” declared assistant attorney general John Carlin, as quoted by the BBC. “Su assisted the Chinese military hackers in their efforts to illegally access and steal designs for cutting-edge military aircraft that are indispensable to our national defense.”
The sentence seems a bit mild, considering the severity of the charges outlined by Carlin. CBS News says he faced up to 30 years in prison before making his plea bargain agreement, at which time the Justice Department spoke of a five-year sentence and $250,000 fine. Su’s attorneys were hoping for two and a half years.
The L.A. Times quotes defense attorney Robert J. Anello describing Su’s crime as “an aberration in a lifetime of generosity and kindness,” claiming he was “sorry for his actions” and arguing that the conviction would make it very difficult for Su to resume doing business in the U.S. after he gets out of prison.
“We are willing to show our gratitude and respect for his service to our country,” declared the editors of China’s Global Times in March. “On the secret battlefield without gunpowder, China needs special agents to gather secrets from the U.S.”