Tearsheet: Chinese business espionage and AMSC for Le Monde


I spent a couple of days alongside Le Monde reporter Arnaud Leparmentier a few months back on stories about the effect of the Trump administration on American businesses. For the first, we profiled the Massachusetts-based wind turbine controller manufacturer AMSC (previously known as American Superconductor). The company's technology was stolen in 2011 by one of their largest clients, the Chinese wind farm company Sinovel, through means that sound like a cold-war spy thriller. After efforts to break AMSC's software encryption failed, one of their European employees was plied with money and Chinese prostitutes to get access to AMSC's proprietary software.

Due to (understandable) security issues, I couldn't photograph much at the manufacturing plant, but the story is fascinating. We spent an hour or so with CEO Daniel P. McGahn, who estimates that as much as 70% of China's wind turbines run software pirated from AMSC. The initial announcement of the theft, in 2013, resulted in the company losing billions of dollars in market value and it's been a struggle for the company to recover. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have actively lobbied China's government to remedy the situation. Sinovel has been convicted or otherwise found liable for the crime in American, European, and Chinese courts, but AMSC has yet to see any monetary compensation. The company has rebounded, but still has far fewer employees than before the theft.

At left, you can see how the pictures ran in the 10 Feb 2018 edition of the French newspaper.

Thanks to Eric at Le Monde for contacting me for the assignment.

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