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Former Google engineer indicted for stealing AI secrets to aid Chinese companies

FILE PHOTO: llustration shows AI (Artificial Intelligence) letters and computer motherboard

By Karen Freifeld and Jonathan Stempel

SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK (Reuters) -A former Google software engineer has been indicted in California on charges of stealing trade secrets related to artificial intelligence from the Alphabet unit, to benefit two Chinese companies he was secretly working for.

Linwei Ding, also known as Leon Ding, was charged on Tuesday by a federal jury in San Francisco with four counts of theft of trade secrets.

The 38-year-old Chinese national was arrested on Wednesday morning at his home in Newark, California. A lawyer for him could not immediately be identified.

Ding's indictment was unveiled a little over a year after the Biden administration created an interagency Disruptive Technology Strike Force to help stop advanced technology being acquired by countries such as China and Russia, or potentially threaten national security.

“The Justice Department just will not tolerate the theft of our trade secrets and intelligence," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a conference in San Francisco.

According to the indictment, Ding stole detailed information about the hardware infrastructure and software platform that lets Google's supercomputing data centers train large AI models through machine learning.

The stolen information included details about chips and systems, and software that helps power a supercomputer "capable of executing at the cutting edge of machine learning and AI technology," the indictment said.

Google designed some of the allegedly stolen chipblueprints to gain an edge over cloud computing rivals Amazon.com and Microsoft, which design their own, and reduce its reliance on chips from Nvidia.

Hired by Google in 2019, Ding allegedly began his thefts three years later, while he was being courted to become chief technology officer for an early-stage Chinese tech company, and by May 2023 had uploaded more than 500 confidential files.

The indictment said Ding founded his own technology company that month, and circulated a document to a chat group that said "We have experience with Google's ten-thousand-card computational power platform; we just need to replicate and upgrade it."

Google became suspicious of Ding in December 2023 and took away his laptop on Jan. 4, 2024, the day before Ding planned to resign.

Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesperson, said: "We have strict safeguards to prevent the theft of our confidential commercial information and trade secrets. After an investigation, we found that this employee stole numerous documents, and we quickly referred the case to law enforcement."

Ding faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each criminal count.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld in San Francisco and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Max Cherney and Luc Cohen in San Francisco; Editing by Chris Sanders and Daniel Wallis)