A former U.S. military pilot pleaded guilty on June 23 to acting as a paid agent of China, admitting that he provided American aviation-related technology to the communist regime, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release.
Shapour Moinian, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot from San Diego, admitted in a federal court to “receiving thousands of dollars” from representatives of the Chinese authorities to provide aviation-related information to China, according to the press release.
The 67-year-old also pleaded guilty to making false statements during national security background checks in 2017 and 2020, the Justice Department said.
“The defendant admitted to being an unregistered agent of a foreign power, lying on his background check paperwork to obtain his security clearance, knowingly providing proprietary information to people controlled by the Chinese government, and willingly receiving payments from them,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy said in the press release.
“This is another example of how the Chinese government enhances its defense capabilities through the illicit exploitation of U.S. technology,” said Moy.
Moinian served in the U.S. Army from 1977 through 2000. After retiring, he worked for various cleared defense contractors in the United States and the Department of Defense. A “cleared” status indicates that “a contractor is permitted to work on projects that involve classified information,” according to the press release.
According to his plea agreement, while Moinian worked as a defense contractor on various aviation projects used by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, he was first contacted in 2017 by a Chinese national who claimed to be a recruiter for an online employment service. The individual offered Moinian the opportunity to consult for China’s aviation industry.
Moinian traveled to Hong Kong in March 2017 to meet with the purported recruiter. At that time, he was aware that these individuals were employed by or directed by the Chinese authorities, according to his plea agreement.
Moinian agreed to offer “information and materials related to multiple types of aircraft designed and/or manufactured in the United States in exchange for money,” according to the press release. Moinian accepted a payment of approximately $7,000–$10,000.
After returning to the United States, Moinian began collecting aviation-related materials and transferred them to a thumb drive.
In September 2017, Moinian gave the thumb drive containing proprietary information from his defense-contractor employer to Chinese officials during a stopover at an airport in Shanghai.
He arranged for the payment through his stepdaughter’s South Korean bank account.
Moinian made another trip to Hong Kong in August 2019 and met with the same people. He received a cash payment of approximately $22,000, which he and his wife smuggled back to America.
Chinese Regime ‘Determined’ to Acquire US Technology
“The People’s Republic of China remains determined to acquire our information and technology,” Alan E. Kohler Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said in the press release.
“In this case, we witnessed a former U.S. Government employee acting as an agent of the government of China and Chinese intelligence officers’ extensive use of social media to identify willing targets,” he added.
In his plea agreement, Moinian admitted that he lied on national security background checks in July 2017 and March 2020. Moinian previously stated in the security background questionnaires that he did not have any close or continuing contacts with foreign nationals and that no foreign national had offered him a job.
However, he was arrested in October 2021 and charged with one count of failing to disclose foreign contacts, which is required as part of routine national security background checks.
Moinian faces up to five years and a $250,000 fine for the false statements count. He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for acting as an agent for the Chinese regime. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 29.
“The FBI is committed not only to leveraging risk and consequences upon the defendant, but also to confronting the behavior and policies of the Chinese government that threaten our national security and freedom,” Kohler said in the press release.