'Please Delete It': How US Firm Was Tricked Into Helping China's Anti-Sub Mission


In order to keep sensitive American technology out of the hands of adversary militaries, the U.S. government tightly regulates the tech and watches closely who's trying to buy it.

That's why documents known as "end user certificates" are important. They declare, at the point of purchase from the American firm, where the products will eventually end up beyond any middlemen.

It's also what makes an alleged recent attempt by a Chinese national to send sensitive technology to an organization closely linked to the Chinese military look so clumsy.

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In August 2015 Chinese national and legal U.S. resident Shuren Qin attempted to buy 40 hydrophones, "devices used to detect and monitor sound underwater," according to court documents. Since hydrophones could be particularly useful in detecting secret submarine movements, hydrophones are subject to export controls.

Shuren wanted the hydrophones sent to one Northwestern Polytechnical University, which is based in Xian, China and described by the U.S. as a "military research institute." Thanks to that dubious distinction, the U.S. doesn't allow tech like hydrophones to be sent to NPU, and that's what Shuren's American supplier told him. That's when Shuren came up with a simple solution.

"The End-user is Dr. Chen Ziheng at Xian Shiyou University, the budget is from Xian Shiyou University," Shuren allegedly wrote in an email to the supplier. "My previous PO [purchase order] has wrong information, Nancy is a new sales[person]. Please delete it. Attached is the correct PO."

Not suspicious at all, right?

Well it was apparently enough for the American supplier, which, after making Shuren promise the new school was the real end-user, shipped the hydrophones on, according to court documents. 

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Somewhere along the line, however, Shuren's purported scheme came to the attention of the U.S. Justice Department. He was arrested last month and charged "in connection with violating export laws by conspiring with employees of an entity affiliated with the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to illegally export U.S. origin goods to China..."

The 41-year-old faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine, should he be found guilty. Attorneys for Shuren did not respond to a request for comment for this report.

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