By Sarah N. Lynch, David Shepardson and Karen Freifeld
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday announced charges in five cases involving alleged efforts to steal technology to benefit China, Russia and Iran including a former Apple Inc engineer accused of targeting the company’s technology on autonomous systems, including self-driving cars, and then fleeing to China.
The cases detailed at a Justice Department press conference centered on allegations concerning the theft of trade secrets and other technology. Two of the cases involved what US officials called procurement networks created to help Russia’s military and intelligence services obtain sensitive technology.
The five cases were the first announced by a US “strike force” formed in February in part to protect sensitive technologies, although the investigations began before it was created.
“We stand vigilant in enforcing US laws to stop the flow of sensitive technologies to our foreign adversaries,” Matt Olsen, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told reporters. “We are committed to doing all 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, formerly resided in Mountain View, California, and was hired by Apple in 2016, according to an April indictment unsealed on Tuesday.
In 2017, he was accepted as a US-based job with a Chinese company working to develop 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 company discovered that he had accessed large amounts of proprietary data in the days before his departure, the Justice Department said. Federal agents searched his home in June 2018 and found “large quantities” of data from Apple, it added. Shortly after the search, he boarded a plane to China, the department said.
Apple’s automotive efforts, known as Project Titan, have proceeded unevenly since 2014, when the company started to design a vehicle from scratch. A December report said Apple had postponed the car’s planned launch to 2026. Reports filed with the state of California show Apple is testing vehicles on the state’s roads.
Apple declined to comment on the case.
In a second case related to China, US prosecutors announced charges against Liming Li, 64, of Rancho Cucamonga, California, for allegedly stealing trade secrets from his California-based employers to build his own