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Posted at 7:10 PM ET, 01/10/2011

Ex-NASA employee charged in S. Korea case

By Jeff Stein

Showing once again that nations have permanent interests but not permanent allies, the Justice Department on Monday charged an Ohio man with illegally shipping infrared military technology to South Korea, a staunch U.S. ally.

The accused man, Kue Sang Chun, 66, was described as a longtime employee at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, named for the former astronaut and U.S. senator, “though he is not accused of taking technology or related materials from [there],” the Justice Department said.

The alleged thefts took place between 2000 and 2005, the department said, when Chun exported “Infra Red Focal Plane Array detectors and Infra Red camera engines” to South Korea without a license or permission from the State Department.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on why so many years had passed before the charges were brought, citing an ongoing investigation.

Another count charged Chun, a South Korean-born NASA researcher, with failing to report about $83,400 of taxable income during that period.

“He did it for money and, according to the charges, he intentionally failed to pay taxes on the money he made from his crimes,” prosecutor Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Chun's attorney John McCaffrey said his client has lived in Northeast Ohio for many years. He said Chun is cooperating with the investigation, which also involves the FBI and the IRS.”

Although the United States and many of its allies have frequently been caught stealing each other’s technical and industrial secrets, instances of South Korean espionage here are rare.

In 1996, a U.S. intelligence analyst, Robert C. Kim, was charged with supplying classified documents to the South Korean Embassy in Washington. He later pled guilty to lesser charges.

A Clinton administration official was quoted at the time saying that evidence gathered during the investigation raised "serious questions'' about South Korean espionage that went beyond Kim’s case.

“Among them is whether the South Korean military, working through its embassy here, has engaged in a broader, systematic effort to spy on its closest ally and protector out of a fear that Washington is withholding intelligence data or that it is secretly dealing directly with North Korea,” the New York Times reported.

But spying is usually a two-way street.

In 1997 an American defense contractor, Donald Ratcliffe, was arrested and convicted in South Korean on espionage charges and given a suspended two-year sentence.

In 2009, South Korea charged two of its ex-military officers with stealing technical secrets for the U.S. aerospace giant Northrop Grumman.

By Jeff Stein  | January 10, 2011; 7:10 PM ET
Categories:  Financial/business, Homeland Security, Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Lawandcourts  
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