San Jose man faces up to 30 years in prison for smuggling US aviation tech from NASA contractor to China

A man from San Jose, California, has been charged with smuggling and violating export control laws after allegedly sending sensitive aeronautics software to a public university in Beijing.

Jonathan Yet Wing Soong, 34, worked as a program administrator for the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) between April 2016 and September 2020. USRA is contracted by NASA to “distribute domestically and internationally sensitive aeronautics-related software developed through the Army’s Software Transfer Agreement (STA) program,” according to a news release published by the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday.

As a program administrator, Soong had primary access to sensitive data. He generated software licenses and physically exported software, among other tasks.

The 19-page complaint against Soong alleged that he “facilitated the sale and transfer of software” to Beihang University — also known as Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (BUAA) — which happens to be included on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s strictly regulated “Entity List.” Due to its involvement in the Chinese government’s military rocket systems and unmanned air vehicle systems, Beihang made the list and is prohibited from receiving certain items without a license.

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Soong allegedly exported CIFER, a software package for producing unmanned aircraft. Prosecutors said he became aware of Beihang’s inclusion on the Entity List in April 2017, but he proceeded to facilitate the transfer of CIFER to Beihang and succeeded in July 2018.

A certain Beijing Rainbow Technical Development Ltd. functioned as an intermediary, according to the complaint. Soong allegedly received payment from this intermediary after arranging for CIFER’s transfer and having its passcodes sent to Beihang.

USRA reportedly received a wire transfer of $2,182 for the sale in January 2018. As per the complaint, Soong also admitted that the nonprofit did not always get the payments for the software he had been selling, since some of them went to his own account.

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“He claimed that when customers wanted to pay by credit card, USRA did not have a method set up to accept credit card payments. He claimed he justified the payments as giving himself a ‘bonus,’ and estimated he stole ‘tens of thousands’ over the years,” the complaint said.

Soong has been charged with a violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and one count of smuggling. The IEEPA violation carries a $1 million fine and a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, while the smuggling count carries a $250,000 fine and a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

 

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Featured Image via brianchenming (CC BY 2.0)

 

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