UCLA Professor Stole Missile Secrets for China, Faces 219 Years in Prison

A California-based electrical engineer has been found guilty of attempting to export sensitive military electronics to China and could face more than two centuries behind bars.

Yi-Chi Shih, 64—a part-time professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)—was convicted on 18 federal charges last week, linked to a plot to illegally obtain microchips from an American company and export them to China, where they could be used in a range of military systems including missiles and fighter jets.

The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that Shih faces a faces a statutory maximum sentence of 219 years in prison. A co-defendant—Kiet Ahn Mai of Pasadena, California—had already pleaded guilty to smuggling charges linked to the plan in December.

Shih posed as a customer to acquire the hardware—so-called monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMICs)—from an unnamed U.S. company.

The MMICs were then shipped to Chinese company called Chengdu GaStone Technology (CGTC), where Shih had previously served as president. The firm was in the process of building its own MMICs factory, the DOJ press release said.

Such technology cannot be exported without Commerce Department authorization, which Shih did not have. MMICs are sensitive because of their use in a range of commercial and military applications, including missiles, missile guidance systems, fighter jets, radar and electronic warfare.

The company targeted by Shih and Mai is a supplier for the Air Force, Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), among others.

Furthermore, CGTC has been on the Commerce Department's "Entity List" since 2014, marking it as a national security threat and requiring official authorization before any American technology can be sold to the company. The DOJ noted that the company had been "involved in the illicit procurement of commodities and items for unauthorized military end use in China."

The six-week trial found Shih guilty of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, mail fraud, wire fraud, false tax returns, false statements to a government agency and conspiracy to commit cybertheft, the DOJ press release explained. A date for sentencing has not yet been set.

U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said Shih "schemed to export to China semiconductors with military and civilian uses, then he lied about it to federal authorities and failed to report income generated by the scheme on his tax returns."

"My office will enforce laws that protect our nation's intellectual property from being used to benefit foreign adversaries who may compromise our national security," Hanna added.

China, espionage, missiles, U.S., stole, professor
This file photo shows military vehicles carrying missiles near the Tiananmen Gate during a military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two on September 3, 2015 in Beijing, China. Rolex Dela Pena - Pool/Getty