Former Army Helicopter Pilot Sold Aviation-Related Secrets to China, Headed to Federal Prison

chinese agents

An AH-64 (Apache) live-fire in the Central Command area of responsibility, March 20, 2021. US Army photo by Sgt. Torrance Saunders.

US Army photo by Sgt. Torrance Saunders.

A former Army helicopter pilot will serve 20 months in federal prison for passing “aviation-related information” to Chinese agents.

Shapour Moinian, 66, was sentenced in federal court Tuesday for acting as an agent of China. The Mira Mesa, California, man admitted to both taking cash and setting up complex payment schemes to deliver classified information stolen from his civilian employers to Chinese agents.

Officials did not specify what kind of helicopters Moinian flew or for what units.

chinese agents

A CH-47 prepares to land so that soldiers can board during an air assault exercise on Fort Campbell, Kentucky, July 14, 2022. US Army photo by Pvt. Matthew Wantroba.

US Army photo by Pvt. Matthew Wantroba.

“This was industrial espionage, bordering on military espionage,” US District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller told Moinian at sentencing. “These were extremely serious offenses against the United States.”

“Mr. Moinian deserves to be held fully accountable for betraying his oath to the United States, selling sensitive information to the Chinese government, and lying repeatedly to cover up his crimes,” said Special Agent in Charge Brice Miller of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service Office of Special Projects.

According to a Department of Justice release, Moinian served in the Army in the US, Germany, and South Korea from 1977 through 2000. After leaving the Army, Moinian took defense contracting jobs, including so-called “clear” positions in San Diego that involved classified information.

According to the Department of Justice, Moinian contracted on aviation projects as well as to US intelligence agencies.

In 2017, he was offered a job in China by a recruiter who claimed to be working for a technical recruiting company.

That March, the DOJ said, Moinian met a Chinese agent in Hong Kong and “agreed to provide information and materials related to multiple types of aircraft designed and/or manufactured in the United States in exchange for money.”

The agent paid between $7,000 and $10,000 in cash during that meeting.

AH-64 Apache Helicopter Maintenance

Soldiers assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, conduct maintenance on an AH-64 Apache helicopter at Katterbach Army Airfield, Germany, June 23, 2020. US Army photo by Charles Rosemond.

US Army photo by Charles Rosemond.

Over the next two years, Moinian took information from his employers on thumb drives, which he passed to Chinese agents on overseas travel. He set up a chain of payments that funneled cash to him through his stepdaughter. Moinian told his stepdaughter that these funds were payment for his consulting work overseas and instructed her to transfer the funds to him in multiple transactions.

Moinian met with the agents again in March 2018 and soon after began working at another defense contractor. He was paid several times after that meeting and then took $22,000 in cash in August 2019. Moinian and his wife smuggled the cash back into the United States.

Moinian also admitted that he lied on government background questionnaires in July 2017 and March 2020, falsely stating that he did not have any close or continuing contacts with foreign nationals and that no foreign national had offered him a job.

“This case serves as a stark reminder of the social media exploitation strategies Chinese intelligence agencies will utilize to target, recruit, and maintain contact with valuable foreign assets,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner.

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Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a Pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. He also teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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