DOJ Makes Blockbuster Announcement of Arrests/Charges in Three Cases Involving Chinese Espionage

On Monday, the Department of Justice held a press conference to announce major developments in three cases involving Chinese espionage in the U.S.

Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, along with other DOJ officials, conducted the 35-minute conference, laying out the details of two criminal complaints which charge 44 defendants with crimes involving the harassment of Chinese nationals in the U.S., and another criminal complaint charging two defendants — “Harry” Lu Jianwang, 61, of the Bronx, and Chen Jinping, 59, of Manhattan — in connection with the operation of an illegal police station in lower Manhattan.

The DOJ issued press releases regarding the cases, as well. The first details the charges against over 40 officers of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), the national police for the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as well as two officials in the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) for 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.”

In the two schemes, the defendants created and used fake social media accounts to harass and intimidate PRC dissidents residing abroad and sought to suppress the dissidents’ free speech on the platform of a U.S. telecommunications company (Company-1). The defendants charged in these schemes are believed to reside in the PRC or elsewhere in Asia and remain at large.

“These cases demonstrate the lengths the PRC government will go to silence and harass U.S. persons who exercise their fundamental rights to speak out against PRC oppression, including by unlawfully exploiting a U.S.-based technology company,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “These actions violate our laws and are an affront to our democratic values and basic human rights.”

“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,” said Acting Assistant Director Kurt Ronnow of the FBI Counterintelligence Division. “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.”

United States v. Yunpeng Bai, et al. involves a two-count complaint charging 34 MPS officers with “conspiracy to transmit interstate threats and conspiracy to commit interstate harassment.” The officers are alleged to have been assigned to the “912 Special Project Working Group,” whose purpose was to target Chinese dissidents living in the U.S. and elsewhere outside of China. The group was described by Peace 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.”

United States v. Julien Jin, et al. involves an amended complaint charging 10 individuals, including six MPS officers, two CAC officials, and a former PRC-based employee of “Company 1” (described as a “telecommunications company” which, according to ABC News, was Zoom), with “conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer means of identification.”

As explained in the press release:

In December 2020, the Department first announced charges against Julien Jin in connection with his efforts to disrupt a series of meetings on the Company-1 platform held in May and June 2020 commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. Jin served as Company-1’s primary liaison with PRC government law enforcement and intelligence services. In that capacity, he regularly responded to requests from the PRC government to terminate meetings and block users on Company-1’s video communications platform.

As detailed in the original complaint, Jin and others conspired to use Company-1’s U.S. systems to censor the political and religious speech of individuals located in the United States and elsewhere at the direction of the PRC government. For example, Jin and others disrupted meetings held on the Company-1 platform to discuss politically sensitive topics unacceptable to the PRC government – including the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Jin and his co-conspirators fabricated evidence of purported misconduct to cause U.S.-based employees of Company-1 to terminate the meetings.

The allegations in the amended complaint reveal that Jin worked directly with and took orders from defendants at the MPS and the CAC to disrupt meetings on the Company-1 platform and that the co-defendants had targeted U.S.-based dissidents’ speech on Company-1’s platform since 2018.

In both of those cases, all of the defendants are believed to reside outside the U.S. and remain at large.

In the third case, defendants Lu and Chen were both arrested early Monday morning and were scheduled to appear Monday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ramon E. Reyes Jr. in Brooklyn.

As set forth in the second press release:

As alleged in the complaint, Lu and Chen are charged with conspiring to act as agents of the PRC government as well as obstructing justice by destroying evidence of their communications with an MPS official. The defendants worked together to establish the first overseas police station in the United States on behalf of the Fuzhou branch of the MPS. The police station – which closed in the fall of 2022 after those operating it became aware of the FBI’s investigation – occupied a floor in an office building in Manhattan’s Chinatown. While acting under the direction and control of an MPS Official, Lu and Chen helped open and operate the clandestine police station. None of the participants in the scheme informed the U.S. government that they were helping the PRC government surreptitiously open and operate an illegal MPS police station on U.S. soil.

In announcing the charges, DOJ did not appear to pull punches regarding the PRC:

“The PRC, through its repressive security apparatus, established a secret physical presence in New York City to monitor and intimidate dissidents and those critical of its government,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The PRC’s actions go far beyond the bounds of acceptable nation-state conduct. We will resolutely defend the freedoms of all those living in our country from the threat of authoritarian repression.”

“This prosecution reveals the Chinese government’s flagrant violation of our nation’s sovereignty by establishing a secret police station in the middle of New York City,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. “As alleged, the defendants and their co-conspirators were tasked with doing the PRC’s bidding, including helping locate a Chinese dissident living in the United States, and obstructed our investigation by deleting their communications. Such a police station has no place here in New York City – or any American community.”

“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,” said Acting Assistant Director Kurt Ronnow of the FBI Counterintelligence Division. “This case serves as a powerful reminder that the People’s Republic of China will stop at nothing to bend people to their will and silence messages they don’t want anyone to hear. The FBI is dedicated to protecting everyone in the United States against efforts to undermine our democratic freedoms, and we’ll hold any state actors – and those who help them – accountable for breaking our laws.”

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