Fugitive ex-Apple engineer charged with stealing self-driving car tech
The Justice Department said on Tuesday it charged a former Apple engineer with stealing the company’s technology related to autonomous systems, including self-driving cars, and then fleeing to China.
The case was one of five announced Tuesday aimed at countering alleged attempts to illegally acquire US technology by countries such as Russia, Iran and China.
Two of the cases involved what Justice Department officials called procurement networks set up to help Russia’s military and intelligence agencies obtain sensitive technology.
The actions were the first announced by a US “strike force” created in February, in part to keep sensitive technologies away from foreign adversaries, though the investigations were launched before it was established.
“We are vigilant in enforcing U.S. laws to stop the flow of sensitive technologies to our foreign adversaries,” Matt Olsen, the chief of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told a news conference. “We are determined to do everything we can to prevent these advanced tools from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries.”
The former Apple engineer, identified as Weibao Wang, 35, formerly lived in Mountain View, California, and was hired by Apple in 2016, according to an April indictment unsealed Tuesday.
In 2017, he accepted a job in the US at a Chinese company developing self-driving cars before resigning from Apple but, according to the indictment, waited about four months before notifying Apple of his new job.
After his last day at Apple, the company discovered that he had been given access to 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 amounts” of Apple data, it added. Shortly after the search, he boarded a plane to China, the department said.
Apple’s automotive effort, known as Project Titan, has been uneven since 2014, when the company first started designing a vehicle from scratch. A December report said Apple had delayed the car’s planned launch until 2026. Reports filed with the state of California show that Apple is testing vehicles on the state’s roads.
Apple declined to comment on the matter.
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 ballistics. missiles, the Justice Department said.
Four arrests were made in connection with the five cases, which were filed in New York, California and Arizona. The charges include export violations, smuggling and trade secrets.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, the second Justice Department official, in February called the newly formed strike force a joint effort with the Commerce Department to protect U.S. technology from foreign adversaries and other threats to national security.
The Commerce Department last year imposed new export controls on advanced computer 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 last year in response to its invasion of Ukraine.