Friday, February 24, 2023

Malign Activity: My Counterterrorism Magazine Piece On Chinese Intelligence Operatives Uncovered in The U.S.

Counterterrorism magazine published my piece on Chinese intelligence operatives that were uncovered in the United States.

You can read the piece via the above and below pages or the below text:

On November 16th, the U.S. Justice Department announced that a Chinese spy was sentenced to 20 years in prison for espionage.

The spy, Yanjun Xu, was the first Chinese government intelligence officer to be extradited to the United States. He was tried in Cincinnati.

Xu, who held the rank of deputy division director at the Chinese Ministry State Security (MSS), Communist China’s intelligence and security agency, was convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage, conspiracy to commit economic espionage, conspiracy to commit trade theft, and other related charges in November 2021.

“As proven at trial, the defendant used a range of techniques to attempt to steal technology and proprietary information from companies based in both the U.S. and abroad,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland at the announcement. “Today’s sentence demonstrates the seriousness of those crimes and the Justice Department’s determination to investigate and prosecute efforts by the Chinese government, or any foreign power, to threaten our economy and national security.”

According to the Justice Department, in March of 2017, a GE Aviation employee in Cincinnati was asked to give a report to a university in China. The employee traveled to China, gave the report and was introduced to Xu. Xu paid the employee’s travel expenses as well as a stipend.

Later, the FBI posed as the employee and communicated with Xu. Xu requested system specifications and design process information from the employee, and – with the cooperation of GE Aviation, who was working with the FBI – the employee emailed a two-page document from the company that included a label that warned about the disclosure of proprietary information.

“In February 2018, XU began discussing with the employee the possibility of meeting in Europe during one of the employee’s business trips and asked the employee to send a copy of the file directory for his company-issued computer,” the Justice Department stated. “Xu traveled to Belgium with cash and pictures of the employee on April 1, 2008. He was scheduled to meet with the employee and was arrested.”

“This case is just the latest example of the Chinese government’s continued attacks on American economic security – and, by extension, our national security,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The Chinese government tasked an officer of its own spy agency to steal U.S. trade secrets so it could advance its own commercial and military aviation efforts, at the expense of an American company. This brazen action shows that the Chinese government will stop at nothing to put our companies out of business to the detriment of U.S. workers. As long as the Chinese government continues to break our laws and threaten American industry and institutions, the FBI will work with its partners across the globe to bring those responsible to justice.”

On October 24th Attorney General Garland, FBI Director Wray and other officials announced that the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the Eastern District of New York and the District of New Jersey charged 13 individuals, including members of the Chinese MSS and their agents, for alleged efforts to unlawfully exert influence in the United States for the benefit of the Chinese government.

According to the Justice Department, an eight-count indictment was unsealed in New York on October 20th charging seven Chinese nationals, two of whom were arrested in New York, with participating in a scheme to cause the forced repatriation of a Chinese national residing in the United States. The defendants are accused of conducting surveillance of and engaging in a campaign to harass and coerce a U.S. resident to return to China as part of an international extralegal repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt.”

A criminal complaint was unsealed on October 24th in federal court in Brooklyn charging two Chinese intelligence officers with attempting to obstruct a criminal prosecution in the Eastern District of New York. The defendants remain at large.

In New Jersey, an indictment was unsealed on October 24th charging four Chinese nationals, including three MSS intelligence officers, in connection with a long-running intelligence campaign targeting individuals in the United States to act as agents for China.

“As these cases demonstrate, the government of China sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our judicial system that protects those rights. They did not succeed,” said Attorney General Garland. “The Justice Department will not tolerate attempts by any foreign power to undermine the Rule of Law upon which our democracy is based. We will continue to fiercely protect the rights guaranteed to everyone in our country. And we will defend the integrity of our institutions.”

Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco added, “The actions announced today take place against a backdrop of malign activity from the government of the People’s Republic of China that includes espionage, attempts to disrupt our justice system, harassment of individuals, and ongoing efforts to steal sensitive U.S. technology. The men and women of the Department of Justice will continue to defend the United States, our institutions, and our people from foreign threats that violate the law — no matter what form they take.”

The eight-count indictment unsealed in Brooklyn charged a total of seven Chinese nationals – Quanzhong An, 55; Guangyang An, 34; Tian Peng, 38; Chenghua Chen; Chunde Ming; Xuexin Hou, 52; and Weidong Yuan, 55 – with participating in a scheme to cause the forced repatriation of a Chinese national residing in the United States. The lead defendant, Quanzhong An, allegedly acted at the direction and under the control of various officials with the Chinese government’s Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection (Provincial Commission) – including Peng, Chen, Ming, and Hou – to conduct surveillance of and engage in a campaign to harass and coerce a U.S. resident to return to the PRC as part of an international extralegal repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt.”

Quanzhong An and Guangyang An were arrested and were arraigned. The remaining defendants remain at large.

“These indictments of PRC intelligence officers and government officials – for trying to obstruct a U.S. trial of a Chinese company, masquerading as university professors to steal sensitive information, and trying to strong-arm a victim into returning to China – again expose the PRC’s outrageous behavior within our own borders,” said FBI Director Wray. “The FBI, working with our partners and allies, will continue to throw the full weight of our counterintelligence and law enforcement authorities into stopping the Chinese government’s crimes against our businesses, universities, and Chinese-American communities.”

About the Author

Paul Davis, who writes the online Threatcon column, is a longtime contributor to the Journal.

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