GE Engineer Accused of Smuggling Company Data for Own Venture

(Bloomberg) -- A General Electric Co. engineer allegedly told federal investigators in New York that he took trade secrets about the company’s turbine technology, which his own business ventures in China also specialize in.

Xiaoqing Zheng, 56, used "sophisticated means" to take data from General Electric’s laboratories, smuggling information out in binary code within a digital photograph file of a sunrise or sunset, according to court documents. He sent the files from his work email to his personal account, the U.S. said.

"The fact that Zheng accomplished this complex process so quickly and easily makes it highly probable that he had practiced these techniques and utilized them in the past," Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent M.D. McDonald wrote in a complaint.

Zheng was hired by General Electric as a principal engineer in 2008 and opened one of his own businesses in China in 2015. He worked on steam turbine technologies at GE. Zheng described his business as a "parts supplier for civil aviation engines" when he disclosed it to his employer.

General Electric started monitoring Zheng’s computers after determining he had likely used a thumb drive to take at least 19,020 data files and found at least 400 more encrypted on his work desktop in 2014, according to the complaint.

"We have been in close cooperation with the FBI for some time on this matter," General Electric said in a statement. "At GE, we aggressively protect and defend our intellectual property and have strict processes in place for identifying these issues and partnering with law enforcement."

Federal agents seized electronic devices and Zheng’s passport during a raid of his home Wednesday. According to the passport, he traveled to China five times in the past two years, the U.S. said.

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