By: Aaron Kim, Insider Threat Analyst
Xiang Haitao, a Chinese national has been sentenced for stealing trade secrets from Monsanto, for the purpose of benefitting the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Haitao has been sentenced to 29 months in prison with a three-year supervised release and a $150,000 fine.
“Xiang conspired to steal an important trade secret to gain an unfair advantage for himself and the PRC,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The victim companies invested significant time and resources to develop this intellectual property. Economic espionage is a serious offense that can threaten U.S. companies’ competitive advantage, and the National Security Division is committed to holding accountable anyone who steals trade secrets to benefit a foreign government.”
According to court documents, Xiang was employed by Monsanto and its subsidiary, The Climate Corporation, from 2008 to 2017, where he worked as an imaging scientist. Monsanto and The Climate Corporation developed a digital, online farming software platform that was used by farmers to collect, store and visualize critical agricultural field data and increase and improve agricultural productivity for farmers. A critical component to the platform was a proprietary predictive algorithm referred to as the Nutrient Optimizer. Monsanto and The Climate Corporation considered the Nutrient Optimizer a valuable trade secret and their intellectual property.
The day after leaving the company in June 2017, Xiang attempted to travel to China on a one-way airplane ticket. Federal officials searched Xiang’s baggage while he was waiting to board his flight. According to court documents, officials later determined that one of the electronic devices that was found contained copies of the Nutrient Optimizer. Xiang was able to leave the United States to China where he worked for the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Soil Science but was eventually arrested when he returned to the states in November 2019.
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