Haitao Xiang, 42, formerly of Chesterfield, Missouri, was indicted today by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to commit economic espionage, three counts of economic espionage, one count of conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets and three counts of theft of trade secrets.
According to the indictment, 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, on-line 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 indictment alleges another example of the Chinese government using Talent Plans to encourage employees to steal intellectual property from their U.S. employers,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “Xiang promoted himself to the Chinese government based on his experience at Monsanto. Within a year of being selected as a Talent Plan recruit, he quit his job, bought a one-way ticket to China, and was caught at the airport with a copy of the company’s proprietary algorithm before he could spirit it away.”
“The revolutionary technology at the core of this case represents both the best of American ingenuity and why the Chinese government is so desperate to steal it for themselves,” said Assistant Director John Brown. “The FBI is committed to working with a host of partners to stop individuals, like the defendant in this case, from engaging in economic espionage to acquire information and technology for a foreign government that is either unable or unwilling to compete on a level playing field. Our country’s economic security is our national security, and the FBI will always do everything in our power to protect it.”
“Stealing trade secrets can destroy a business,” said Special Agent in Charge Richard Quinn of the FBI St. Louis Division. “When done at the behest of a foreign government, it threatens our nation’s economic security because it robs our companies of their market share and competitive advantage.”
In June 2017, the day after leaving employment with Monsanto and The Climate Corporation, Xiang bought a one-way plane ticket to China. Before he could board his flight, Xiang was intercepted at the airport by federal officials who seized copies of the Nutrient Optimizer.
If convicted, each espionage charge carries up to 15 years in prison and a $5,000,000 fine. Each theft of trade secrets charges carries up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The FBI is investigating this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Drake and Trial Attorneys Heather Schmidt and Heather Alpino in the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division are handling this case.
An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.