A graduate student at Iowa State University is one of two people arrested on allegations they tried to sell military secrets to China.
Wentong Cai is charged in federal court in New Mexico with allegedly violating the Arms Export Control Act, according to a story first reported by KOB-TV in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Cai was arrested in Iowa in January. It’s unclear where he is being held. A business partner, Bo Cai, was arrested later and is being held in jail in Santa Fe County, New Mexico, jail records show. It’s not known whether the men are related.
Wenton Cai and Bo Cai are accused of trying to buy military sensors from an Albuquerque company and take them to China, according to a search warrant obtained by KOB-TV.
Investigators with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security worked under cover during the investigation, which lasted for several weeks.
Wentong Cai and Bo Cai thought they were meeting with a man who would sell them small sensors made at an Albuquerque company and used for military communications and lasers in ground and aerial military vehicles. Instead, the man they were meeting was an undercover investigator.
Wentong Cai said in a series of emails to the undercover agent that he wanted to buy 20 of the sensors, the search warrant said.
He said in the emails that the sensors, which cost about $11,000 each, would be used for research at Iowa State University, where Cai was enrolled as a graduate student in the veterinary microbiology and preventative medicine department.
It wasn’t until the Cais met with the undercover agent in Albuquerque that they said they wanted to smuggle the sensors to a research facility in Shanghai.
The search warrant requested that a judge grant investigators permission to search Wentong Cai’s ISU email account.
Keith Bystrom, associate university counsel for ISU, said the university cooperated with investigators but could not comment further.
“I know there’s a federal investigation pending, and we were advised not to discuss the federal investigation,” Bystrom said.
An official with the U.S. District Court in Albuquerque said that no information on the case was available because it was sealed. Telephone messages and email messages left by the Tribune on Friday with officials with Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Albuquerque were not returned.
Both men, who are reportedly in the their late 20s, had a Chinese technology company send the undercover agent $27,000, according to the KOB-TV report.
The undercover agent gave the men a nonfunctional sensor, which they accepted and carried with them as they boarded a plane from Albuquerque to Los Angeles. While the men tried to board a plane to China, U.S. customs officials found the sensor and confiscated it.
ISU spokeswoman Annette Hacker confirmed that Wentog Cai had been continuously enrolled at the university since 2009 and was working on his doctorate as of January but that he never completed the program.
Cai received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Nanjing Agricultural University in China before enrolling at ISU.
Officials with the Iowa State University Department of Public Safety said they assisted federal authorities with the investigation but provided no further details.