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U.S. charges Apple ex-employee for trying to steal technology, fleeing to China

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The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it has charged a former Apple Inc (AAPL.O) engineer with attempting to steal the firm’s technology related to autonomous systems, including self-driving cars, and then fleeing to China.

The case was among five announced on Tuesday aimed at countering efforts to illicitly acquire American technology by nations including Russia and China. The actions were the first announced by a “strike force” formed in February in part to keep sensitive technologies away from foreign adversaries.

The engineer, identified by the Justice Department as 35-year-old Weibao Wang, in 2017 accepted a U.S.-based job with a Chinese company working to develop self-driving cars before resigning from Apple, officials said.

Two of the cases involved dismantling alleged procurement networks created to help the Russian military and intelligence services obtain sensitive technology. Two cases, including Wang’s, were tied to former software engineers allegedly stealing source code from U.S. technology companies to market it to Chinese competitors.

The fifth case involved a Chinese network created to provide Iran with materials used in weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.

Four arrests were made in connection with the cases, which were brought in New York, California and Arizona. The charges include export violations, smuggling and trade secrets.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, the department’s No. 2 official, said in February that the new group was a joint effort with the U.S. Commerce Department to safeguard American technology from foreign adversaries and other national security threats. Monaco said at the time that the United States would “strike back against adversaries trying to siphon off our most advanced technology, and to attack tomorrow’s national security threats today.”

The strike force includes 14 U.S. attorney offices across the country working to target illicit actors, strengthen supply chains and protect sensitive technologies from being acquired or used by foreign adversaries.

The Commerce Department last year imposed new export controls on advanced computing and semiconductor components in a maneuver designed to prevent China from acquiring certain chips. The United States and a coalition of 37 other countries also imposed export controls on Russia over the past year in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

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