WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice said on Tuesday it charged a former Apple engineer with attempting to steal the company’s technology related to self-driving systems, including self-driving cars, and then fleeing to China.
The case was among five announced on Tuesday aimed at countering alleged efforts to illegally obtain US technology by countries including Russia, Iran and China. Two of the cases involved what Justice Department officials described as procurement networks set up to help Russia’s military and intelligence services obtain sensitive technology.
The measures were the first announced by a US “strike force” formed in February in part to keep sensitive technologies away from foreign adversaries, although investigations began before it was created.
“We stand vigilant in enforcing US laws to stem the flow of sensitive technologies to our foreign adversaries,” Matt Olsen, the justice department’s chief of national security, said at a news conference. “We are committed to doing everything we can to prevent these advanced tools from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries.”
The former Apple engineer, identified as 35-year-old Weibao Wang, previously resided in Mountain View, California, and was hired by Apple in 2016, according to the April indictment unsealed Tuesday. .
In 2017, he accepted a job in the US with a Chinese company developing self-driving cars before resigning from Apple, but waited about four months before informing Apple of his new job, according to the indictment.
After his last day at Apple, the Justice Department said, the company discovered he had accessed large amounts of proprietary data in the days leading up to his departure. It added that federal agents searched his home in June 2018 and found “large amounts” of data from Apple. The department said that shortly after the search, he boarded a plane for China.
Apple’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have gone uneven since 2014, when the company first began designing a car from scratch. A December report said Apple had pushed back the planned launch of the vehicle to 2026. Reports filed with the state of California show that Apple is testing the vehicles on the state’s roads.
Apple declined to comment on the case.
The Justice Department said two other cases involved a former software engineer accused of stealing source code from US technology companies to market to Chinese competitors and a Chinese network set up to supply Iran with materials used in weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
Four arrests have been made in connection with the five cases, which were brought in New York, California and Arizona. The charges include export and smuggling offenses and trade secrets.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, in February described the newly formed strike force as a joint effort with the US Department of Commerce to protect American technology from foreign adversaries and other national security threats.
The Commerce Department last year imposed new export controls on advanced computing and semiconductor components in a maneuver designed to prevent China from obtaining certain chips. The United States and a coalition of 37 other countries also imposed restrictions on Russian exports over the past year in response to its invasion of Ukraine.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Sarah Lynch
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