Chi Mak, who worked for a US company with several Navy contracts, was convicted last May of trying to export intelligence about silent submarines in a plot that involved four members of his family.
Mak, 65, was also fined US$50,000 by US District Judge Cormac Carney, who said the lengthy sentence was intended to send a message to China, which has recently been accused of waging Cold War-style espionage within the US.
"We will never know the full extent of the damage that Mr. Mak has done to our national security," Carney wrote in a statement of reasons filed in conjunction with the sentencing.
"A high-end...sentence will provide a strong deterrent to the PRC (People's Republic of China) not to send its agents here to steal American military secrets."
In a statement read to the court, Mak said he had "never intended to violate any law at all."
"I never intended to hurt this country," Mak said. "I love this country. I
still hope for justice."
Mak was convicted at a trial in Santa Ana, outside of Los Angeles, last year. He was found guilty of two counts of attempting to send sensitive material to China, acting as a foreign agent without notifying the US government and making false statements to federal agents.
The engineer was arrested in October 2005 after agents swooped on two relatives at Los Angeles Airport as they prepared to board a flight to Hong Kong with a disk carrying sensitive encrypted data hidden in their luggage.
Mak's relatives, including his wife, Rebecca Chiu, his brother, Tai Mak, sister-in-law, Fuk Li, and their son, Billy Mak, pleaded guilty following Mak's trial and conviction.
Tai Mak and Chiu, both California residents, are scheduled to be sentenced in April and May.
Fuk Li and Billy Mak were previously sentenced to time served and now face deportation to China.
Although prosecutors accused Mak of spying for China during his trial, the engineer was not formally charged with espionage because the information was not officially deemed classified.
However prosecutors said the data, which related to silent submarine technology known as the Quiet Electric Drive (QED), was extremely sensitive and was marked NOFORN, meaning it should be barred from view of foreign nationals.
Mak, a naturalised US citizen who was born in Guangzhou, China, denied the charges.
The 18-month investigation into Mak began in early 2004, when federal agents began audio and video surveillance of the engineer and his family.
Although technically not an espionage trial, prosecutors painted a shadowy world of intrigue, revealing Chinese intelligence's use of code names such as Red Flower, Winter Chrysanthemum and Autumn Orchid.
After raiding Mak's home, prosecutors said they also discovered a "wish-list" of US military technology, including information on missile defence and torpedo systems.
China's foreign secret service is among the "most aggressive" in trying to steal sensitive US military technology and information, US Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell charged recently.
Chinese and Russian spies, he said, were stalking the United States at levels close to those seen during the tense espionage duels of the Cold War.
Last month, a US defence official, an ex-Boeing engineer and two others were charged with spying for China involving sensitive military and aerospace secrets, including on the space shuttle.
Last Mod: 25 Mart 2008, 11:26