A striking and intense image of a handcuffed ex-Google engineer being escorted by Chinese authorities. The background shows a blurred, futuristic cityscape with towering buildings, while the engineer's face is a mix of fear and defiance. A headline reads: "China arrests ex-Google engineer for taking secrets of."

China Arrested an Ex-Google Engineer for Taking Secrets of

A 38-year-old Chinese citizen and California resident have been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) for allegedly obtaining confidential Google data while working undercover for two Chinese tech businesses.

“Transferred sensitive Google trade secrets and other confidential information from Google’s network to his personal account while secretly affiliating himself with PRC-based companies in the AI industry,” according to the Department of Justice, is what happened to Linwei Ding, also known as Leon Ding, a former Google engineer who was arrested on March 6, 2024.

In an attempt to provide two unidentified Chinese enterprises an advantage in the continuing AI race, the defendant is accused of stealing more than 500 secret Google files holding trade secrets related to artificial intelligence (AI).

“While Linwei Ding was employed as a software engineer at Google, he was secretly working to enrich himself and two companies based in the People’s Republic of China,” said U.S. Attorney Ismail Ramsey.

“By stealing Google’s trade secrets about its artificial intelligence supercomputing systems, Ding gave himself and the companies that he affiliated with in the PRC an unfair competitive advantage.”

Ding, a software engineer who joined Google in 2019, is charged with stealing confidential data about the company’s supercomputing data center infrastructure—which is used to run AI models—the Cluster Management System (CMS) software, which is used to manage the data centers, and the AI models and applications that are supported by them.

The indictment said that the theft occurred to a personal Google Cloud account between May 21, 2022, and May 2, 2023, and that Ding had covertly associated himself with two Chinese IT organizations.

This included one business where he was given the chief technology officer post sometime in June 2022, and another that Ding started and served as the chief executive officer of by no later than May 30, 2023.

“Ding’s company touted the development of a software platform designed to accelerate machine learning workloads, including training large AI models,” the Department of Justice said.

“A document related to Ding’s startup company stated, ‘we have experience with Google’s ten-thousand-card computational power platform; we just need to replicate and upgrade it – and then further develop a computational power platform suited to China’s national conditions.'”

However, in an intriguing detour, Ding allegedly copied the information from Google source files into the Apple Notes software on his MacBook, which was supplied by the firm, and then converted the notes to PDF files before uploading them to their Google account in order to hide the theft of trade secrets.

In addition, it has been reported that Ding gave the appearance that he was working from his Google office in the United States while, in reality, he was in China in December 2023 by allowing another Google employee to scan the entry of a Google building using his access badge that was supplied by Google. December 26, 2023, was his last day of employment at Google.

Ding is facing four charges related to trade secret theft. He may be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count if found guilty.

This comes days after David Franklin Slater, a civilian employee of the U.S. Air Force assigned to the U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), was detained and charged by the Department of Justice (DoJ) for communicating classified material on a foreign online dating platform between February and April 2022.

Among the data were Russian military capabilities and military objectives related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as National Defense Information (NDI). It is said to have been sent using the messaging service of a dating website to a co-conspirator who identified herself as a female resident of Ukraine.

“Slater willfully, improperly, and unlawfully transmitted NDI classified as ‘SECRET,’ which he had reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, on a foreign online dating platform to a person not authorized to receive such information,” the Department of Justice stated.

For each count of conspiracy to send and transmission of NDI, Slater, 63, is subject to a maximum monetary penalty of $250,000, three years of supervised release, and up to ten years in prison. Nothing is known about the person assuming the identity of a Ukrainian lady, including her true motivations.


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