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Two charged with allegedly operating secret Chinese police station in NY

Federal officials arrested two New York residents Monday for allegedly operating an unauthorized police station out of a Manhattan office building and using it to find and intimidate a Chinese dissident living in California.

Law enforcement officials also have charged 34 officers from China’s national police force, who do not live in the United States, with wielding thousands of fake social media accounts to spread Chinese propaganda and harass dissidents living abroad.

Another 10 people were charged with targeting and intimidating users of a U.S. technology platform, including critics of the Chinese regime. The facts of the case and the name of one of the defendants match previous charges involving Zoom Video Communications.

Taken together, the three criminal cases illustrate different ways that the Chinese government allegedly uses covert surveillance tactics to track and intimidate critics living outside its borders.

“The allegations you just heard pull back the curtain on the [People Republic of China’s] audacious and illegal attempts to harass dissidents and stifle free speech in our country,” Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York said at a news conference. “And today’s charges send a crystal clear response to the PRC that we are on to you, we know what you are doing and we will stop it from happening in the United States of America.”

This dissident uses Chinese-owned Tik-Tok to criticize China’s government

China has set up more than 100 clandestine police stations across the world to monitor and harass Chinese nationals living abroad, according to an October report by Safeguard Defenders, a human rights organization that monitors disappearances in China. FBI Director Christopher A. Wray later said at a Senate hearing in November that he was aware of the secret stations and “very concerned” about them, Reuters reported.

The court documents unsealed Monday echo allegations in the Safeguard Defenders report, which said people working with the Chinese government would often threaten dissidents’ families with violence if they did not return to China.

Peace said Monday’s arrests mark the first criminal charges brought anywhere in the world against people for their connections to these unauthorized police stations. “Harry” Lu Jianwang, 61, of the Bronx, and Chen Jinping, 59, of Manhattan were taken into custody Monday morning and charged with conspiring to act as agents of the Chinese government and obstructing justice by destroying evidence.

Peace said the suspects deleted communications they had with the Chinese government when they learned that the FBI was investigating them. That has made it more difficult for law enforcement to determine the full extent of the alleged operation of the police station and how many U.S. residents may have been tracked, Peace said.

According to the complaint, the two men, who are both U.S. citizens, opened the secret police station in January 2022, in office space used by a nonprofit they led. The FBI searched the police station in October.

The victim in California was harassed multiple times, according to the court filing, and had their car broken into immediately after giving a pro-democracy speech. The victim also received “harassing” calls and messages from social media accounts believed to be associated with the Chinese government, the filing states.

The indictment involving Chinese government agents and social media paints the most detailed picture yet of the country’s alleged troll operations, describing a sophisticated system that controls thousands of fake accounts on Twitter and elsewhere. The agents allegedly could add many followers to a new account with a few clicks, selecting from lists of common names for people living in various countries. They are charged with conspiracy to transmit interstate threats and conspiracy to commit interstate harassment.

The police officers operating the fake online accounts would be given instructions on whom to target and how, the criminal complaint says. The fake accounts typically spied on expatriate critics of the regime, harassed them online and sometimes revealed the critics’ locations even as they threatened physical harm, the document says.

Russia claims bots are caught only 1% of the time, Discord files show

Like Russian troll campaigns, which have received far more attention, the fake Chinese accounts also tried to increase American social divisions. In one notable case cited in the complaint, the fake accounts repeatedly invoked an anti-Semitic trope to suggest that an unnamed Jewish social media executive had lobbied against a Chinese company, possibly TikTok.

As of Monday afternoon, the account behind that now-deleted slur was still visible on Twitter. The account’s most recent tweets, from early 2022, promoted the false claim that U.S. military research had unleashed the coronavirus.

In a separate indictment, 10 additional people, including six Chinese police officers, were charged with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer means of identification. They are accused of targeting Chinese dissidents who were using the American company’s virtual platform. One of the people charged in the indictment was Julien Jin, a China-based employee of Zoom who had been accused of other surveillance-related offenses in 2020.

“As we said in 2020 when this matter was originally announced, we have been cooperating fully with the Department of Justice,” Zoom spokeswoman Lauren Condoluci said in a written statement. “We wholly support the U.S. Government’s commitment to protecting American companies and citizens from foreign coercion or influence.”

The company has overhauled its internal procedures since the 2020 criminal investigation, Condoluci said, adding that and all Chinese data requests have been rejected or withdrawn since early 2021.


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