The FBI arrested two alleged Chinese agents at their homes in New York City on Monday for allegedly running an illegal Chinese police station in the heart of New York City, according to court documents obtained by The Daily Beast.
The two alleged operatives, “Harry” Lu Jianwang of the Bronx and Chen Jinping of Manhattan, are accused of operating at the behest of Beijing and its Ministry of Public Security, China’s domestic security service, in order to silence critics of Beijing, court documents state.
The illegal overseas police outpost was established to threaten critics inside the United States and monitor them, U.S. officials said Monday.
For his part, Lu was allegedly responsible for helping Beijing locate a Chinese dissident living in California just last year, according to U.S. officials. He was also enlisted to harass a purported Chinese fugitive, in order to pressure them to return to China with threats of violence, according to the court documents. Lu has allegedly been participating in counterprotests in Washington, D.C. since about 2015.
When Lu and Chen became aware of an FBI probe into their activities, they destroyed evidence and erased their communications, U.S. officials said.
“It is simply outrageous that China’s Ministry of Public Security thinks it can get away with establishing a secret, illegal police station on U.S. soil to aid its efforts to export repression and subvert our rule of law,” Acting Assistant Director Kurt Ronnow of the FBI Counterintelligence Division said.
Lu and Chen are expected to appear in court Monday afternoon in Brooklyn.
China’s national police service has also been running a secret army of trolls pretending to be Americans on social media in order to harass Chinese dissidents and amplify divisions in the United States, U.S. officials said Monday. Thirty-four individuals have been charged with using social media to harass and threaten Chinese dissidents, as well as trying to amplify division in the United States and undermine confidence in America’s democratic processes.
It’s not the first time the FBI has caught on to the China’s Ministry of Public Security’s efforts to run influence and disinformation operations in the United States. Last October, authorities arrested two Chinese nationals and charged seven Chinese national for surveilling and harassing a U.S. resident to return to China.
The social media troll group, known as the “912 Special Project Working Group,” allegedly focused on targeting those with political views that run counter to Beijing’s government interest, such as advocating for democracy in China.
The group, which is also known as the “Cyber Investigation Group,” is part of a broader group called the “Command Group,” according to court documents obtained by The Daily Beast.
The group maintained thousands of online accounts for their operations, including those under the names “Susan Miller,”and “Leslie Sherman,” who were made to look like they were from New York, and “Bethany Pena” and “Bill Giao,” who were made to look like they lived in California.
China’s social media troll operatives were instructed specifically to avoid looking like they were “flooding” the field, according to court documents, which may partially explain their limited reach.
Some of the group’s tasks have allegedly included spreading misinformation about the origins of COVID, accusing the Biden administration of provoking conflicts in the South China Sea, blaming the United States for provoking Russia’s war in Ukraine, and amplifying narratives about racial discrimination in the United States.
The troll farm was assigned to focus its social media operations on the U.S. midterms in 2022, and made posts targeting both Democrats and Republicans, according to the court filings. The group at other times amplified posts from Russian accounts that accused the U.S. intelligence community of being responsible for the Nord Stream pipeline explosion, the court documents state.
Some of the group members were allegedly tasked to write articles from Beijing, while others were responsible for videos.
At times, the Chinese government operatives contacted actual social media users on the internet perceived to be sympathetic to China, the court documents state.
On Monday, the Department of Justice also accused Julien Jin, an executive at Zoom, of working directly with and taking orders from China’s Ministry of Public Security and the Cyberspace Administration of China to disrupt Zoom meetings that touched on content that ran counter to China’s interests.
Prosecutors had previously announced charges against Jin for helping China disrupt and censor Zoom meetings focused on commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
“The charges you’ve heard about today reveal a series of brazen criminal schemes directed by the Ministry of Public Security,” David Sundberg, the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office said Monday of China’s schemes.