(The Center Square) – Criminal complaints have been filed against at least 44 Chinese nationals for allegedly committing crimes against American citizens or residents on behalf of the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Public Security, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced Friday.
An international nongovernmental organization claims other Chinese operatives are active in Canada and the U.S., specifically in San Francisco, Houston and two Midwestern states.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York unsealed two criminal complaints that charged 44 people, including 40 MPS officers and two officials in the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), for allegedly perpetrating “transnational repression schemes targeting U.S. residents whose political views and actions are disfavored by the PRC government, such as advocating for democracy in the PRC,” the DOJ said in a statement.
Those charged allegedly created and used thousands of fake online personas on social media sites, including Twitter, to harass and intimidate PRC dissidents residing in the U.S. and abroad. They also sought to suppress free speech on a U.S. telecommunications company platform and disseminated official PRC government propaganda to counter pro-democracy speech of Chinese dissidents without the social media companies detecting it, the complaint states. Those charged are all believed to be living in China or another Asian country and remain at large, the DOJ said.
“China’s Ministry of Public Security used operatives to target people of Chinese descent who had the courage to speak out against the Chinese Communist Party – in one case by covertly spreading propaganda to undermine confidence in our democratic processes and, in another, by suppressing U.S. video conferencing users’ free speech,” Acting Assistant Director Kurt Ronnow of the FBI Counterintelligence Division said. “We aren’t going to tolerate CCP repression – its efforts to threaten, harass, and intimidate people – here in the United States. The FBI will continue to confront the Chinese government’s efforts to violate our laws and repress the rights and freedoms of people in our country.”
The two-count complaint charges 34 MPS officers with conspiracy to transmit interstate threats and conspiracy to commit interstate harassment.
Those charged are believed to be working with Beijing’s MPS bureau or are assigned to an elite task force called the “912 Special Project Working Group” to target Chinese dissidents living in the U.S. and throughout the world, according to the complaint.
“As alleged, the PRC government deploys its national police and the 912 Special Project Working Group not as an instrument to uphold the law and protect public safety, but rather as a troll farm that attacks persons in our country for exercising free speech in a manner that the PRC government finds disagreeable, and also spreads propaganda whose sole purpose is to sow divisions within the United States,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York said.
An amended complaint charges 10 individuals, including a former PRC-based company employee, six MPS officers, and two CAC officials, with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer means of identification. All remain at large.
According to investigations by the Madrid, Spain-based nongovernmental organization, Safeguard Defenders, the PRC uses “illicit methods to harass, threaten, intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution,” including through officers working in at least 102 “Chinese Overseas Police Service Centers” or “police stations,” in 53 countries. Through them, they are engaging in “persuasions to return” operations designed to “intimidate and force targets to return to China for persecution,” the report states.
It cites a Chinese report on the PRC State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office in 2014 announcing its plans to establish 60 police stations worldwide. Since then, 46 centers have been identified in 40 countries, according to the Safeguard Defenders report. As of 2018, these police offices were operating in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver in Canada and in San Francisco, Houston, Minnesota and Nebraska in the U.S.
In response to questions raised about purported Chinese spies operating in Houston, the FBI-Houston office issued a statement saying, “Generally speaking, the FBI conducts logical, fact-based investigations and follows the evidence wherever it may lead. We’re increasingly conducting outreach in order to raise awareness of how some countries’ governments harass and intimidate their own citizens living in the U.S. This violates U.S. law and individual rights and freedoms and will not be tolerated,” Fox 26 News Houston reported.
The FBI encourages “anyone who may have experienced this harassment or intimidation” to contact the FBI at tips.fbi.gov, call their local FBI field office, or call 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or go to the FBI’s Transnational Repressionwebsite.