A former Apple engineer was arrested as he was about to board a flight from San Jose to China Saturday, accused by US prosecutors of stealing tech secrets from the firm with the plan of passing them along to a Chinese startup, the Washington Post reports. Zhang Xiaolang, once a hardware engineer for Apple's driverless car development team, told the company in April that he was leaving to go back to China and work at Xiaopeng Motors or XMotors, which is also developing autonomous vehicles. But Apple became suspicious when his level of network activity "increased exponentially" before his resignation, and officials say he ultimately admitted downloading self-driving car technology files to his wife's laptop. Prosecutors say those files included engineering schematics as well as technical manuals and reports.
Zhang was also caught on surveillance video entering the software and hardware labs of the autonomous vehicle department and leaving with a large box. An XMotors spokesperson says the firm has always abided by the law and notes, "There is no indication that he has ever communicated any sensitive information from Apple to XMotors." Zhang's access to his work at XMotors was denied and his computer and other equipment were secured after US authorities notified the company they were investigating him; he was ultimately fired. Apple's work on self-driving cars is extremely secretive; just 2,700 "core" employees have access to the project's databases. Operating under an emergency law, the US Treasury Department plans to increase scrutiny of Chinese investment in US industries including new-energy vehicles, robotics, and aerospace, sources tell Bloomberg. (Read more Apple stories.)