Chinese Student Pleads Guilty to Using Drones to Photograph US Naval Shipyards

Frank Fang
By Frank Fang
July 9, 2024China News

A Chinese student plead guilty to two misdemeanors under the Espionage Act for using a drone to take photos of naval shipyards in Virginia.

Shi Fengyun, born in China in 1998, pleaded guilty to two out of six Espionage Act misdemeanors in federal court in Virginia’s Eastern District on July 8, according to court documents. The Department of Justice, which charged Mr. Shi in June, dismissed the remaining four misdemeanors.

The two misdemeanors fall under one statute of the Espionage Act, which prohibits unauthorized photography of military installations using aircraft such as drones.

A court document stated that Mr. Shi purchased a drone on Jan. 3, when he was an agricultural engineering graduate student at the University of Minnesota, on a student visa.

A day later, he flew into Norfolk International Airport in Virginia from San Francisco, California. Upon arrival, he rented a car at the airport.

“[Mr. ] Shi first flew the drone a little before midnight the night of Jan. 5. Shi flew the drone around BAE Systems Shipbuilding and General Dynamics NASSCO in Norfolk, Virginia, and took pictures of drydocked U.S. naval vessels,” the court document reads.

On Jan. 6, Mr. Shi drove to Newport News, Virginia, where he flew the drone “around and over” the Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard (NNSB), known for building nuclear submarines and next-generation Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers.

“[Mr.] Shi took several more pictures with his drone of U.S. naval vessels in drydock and under construction at NNSB,” the court document reads.

The court document said that NNSB was “actively manufacturing Ford-class carriers as well as Virginia-class nuclear submarines.”

His drone got stuck in a resident’s tree due to inclement weather at the time. The resident called the local police due to his suspicion of the student’s activity.

The local police told Mr. Shi that he would need to contact the local fire department to get his drone back, the court document stated. Mr. Shi left the scene without retrieving his drone.

On Jan. 8, the resident handed over Mr. Shi’s drone to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, a civilian federal law enforcement agency with the U.S. Department of the Navy.

After the incident, Mr. Shi did not return to the University of Minnesota, according to the court document. “He was apprehended by law enforcement on Jan. 18, in California before boarding a one-way flight to China,” the document reads.

According to the Department of Justice, each misdemeanor can result in up to a year in prison, a fine of $100,000, and a term of supervised release of up to a year upon conviction.

Mr. Shi calls himself a “startup manager” on his LinkedIn page. He has a bachelor’s degree from China’s Jilin University and a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. Between August 2020 and January 2021, he worked at the State Grid Corporation of China, a state-owned enterprise in China.

The Epoch Times has contacted Mr. Shi’s lawyer and the Justice Department for comment.

In Congress, lawmakers have raised concerns over the Chinese regime’s efforts to infiltrate U.S. military bases.

In June 2020, three Chinese nationals were sentenced to prison terms for trespassing and taking photos of the Naval Air Station Key West in Florida.

From The Epoch Times