In total, the US Department of Justice said 10 people were Chinese intelligence agents or government officials engaged in criminal activity and, in the most alarming case, accused two men of working for Beijing to bribing a US law enforcement official to share secrets about an ongoing case. lawsuit against a large Chinese company. Although officials did not identify the company, people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing cases, said it was Huawei Technologies, a global technology giant. telecommunications which has been fighting for years with the United States over trade secrets, sanctions and national security concerns.
Unbeknownst to the two accused Chinese agents, the law enforcement official they believed had managed to bribe was actually acting as a double agent, working for the US government, gathering evidence against the two suspects and providing them with false details and documents to gain their trust, officials said.
Wray publicly thanked the unidentified double agent for his painstaking work in building the case. “We frequently employ double agents in our counter-intelligence operations against the PRC [People’s Republic of China’s] services and other foreign threats. Given the nature of this work, we rarely have the opportunity to thank them publicly. So I’m delighted to have this chance today.
The other two cases highlight what US officials say is a relentless effort by the Chinese government to both recruit US sources and harass perceived enemies on US soil.
“Each of these cases lays bare the flagrant violation of international law by the Chinese government as it strives to project its authoritarian vision to the world,” Wray said at a press conference.
An unsealed indictment in New Jersey charged four people, including three alleged Chinese intelligence agents, with conspiring to act as unlawful agents on behalf of China, using an alleged Chinese academic institute to “target, co-opt and direct” individuals in the United States. to advance China’s intelligence objectives.
In the third case, seven people have been accused of working on behalf of China in a long-running campaign of harassment to force a US resident to return to China – part of what US officials say is a broader Chinese strategy of punishing critics who live overseas, called Operation Fox Hunt. Chinese agents are accused of using threats, surveillance and intimidation to coerce the individual, who was not named in court documents, to return to China.
In that case, Attorney General Merrick Garland described how the Chinese government said the American resident’s life would be “unending misery” unless the person returned to China.
“As these cases demonstrate, the Chinese government has sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our justice system that protects those rights,” Garland said. ” They did not succeed. The Department of Justice will not tolerate any attempt by a foreign power to undermine the rule of law on which our democracy is based.
The Ministry of Justice indicted Huawei Technologies in 2019accusing the world’s largest communications equipment maker and some of its executives of violating US sanctions on Iran and conspiring to obstruct justice related to the investigation, prompting furious condemnations from the part of the company and the country.
The new charges suggest the Chinese government has gone to great lengths to try to frustrate the US case against the company, commissioning alleged Chinese intelligence agents to obtain information about witnesses and evidence. Huawei has long insisted that it operates independently of the Chinese government.
The 29-page lawsuit unveiled Monday against the two Chinese men – Guochun He and Zheng Wang – accuses them of trying to recruit someone they believed to be a US law enforcement employee who could act as a spy in the ongoing investigation. In fact, according to the charging document, this employee was monitored and directed by the FBI, sharing conversations and helping US prosecutors build a case against the two men.
Parts of the unsealed complaint read like a spy novel, describing efforts by the alleged intelligence agents to use a payphone to contact a person they thought had ties to the Justice Department, offering bitcoin bribes and attributing codenames such as “Marilyn Monroe” and “Cary Grant” to alleged witnesses. The two men, believed to be in China, are charged with money laundering and obstruction.
A former US counterintelligence agent said the craftsmanship of alleged Chinese spies looked “amateur”. The alleged intelligence officer “talked about what his superiors wanted and didn’t want, what the company wanted or didn’t want to do,” said Holden Triplett, a former FBI legal clerk in Beijing and a former agent for counterintelligence. A more skilled spy would “keep the source focused on what they’re supposed to get, what they’ll be paid for, and why they’re doing it,” Triplett said.
“The operation just shows the Chinese government’s desperation,” Triplett said. “It means the case really hurts Huawei – or they wouldn’t commit the resources and take the risk of trying to target a government source. It’s also very clear that Huawei is in the government’s national security strategy. Chinese. They need Huawei to succeed for them to succeed.
The charges come as the United States has taken increasingly aggressive steps to contain China’s growing military and technological power.
A Huawei representative did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Huawei is a Chinese “national champion”, a company seen as crucial to Beijing’s strategic goals and which has received substantial government financial support. Its founder, Ren Zhengfei, had been an engineer with the People’s Liberation Army in the 1970s, fueling suspicions that the company had military ties. Ren said Huawei does not help Beijing with intelligence gathering.
Former Huawei chairwoman Sun Yafang, who retired in 2018, previously worked for the Ministry of State Security, China’s top foreign intelligence service, according to an essay published under her name in a magazine. Chinese in 2017.
The Chinese government’s attempt to interfere in the Huawei prosecution “only reinforces the DOJ’s view that [the] the interests “of the Chinese government and Huawei” are not only perfectly aligned, but inextricably linked,” David Laufman, a former senior Justice Department official who has handled Chinese espionage and cybersecurity cases, said on Twitter. .
These cases are the latest manifestation of a shift in approach for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, which earlier this year ended its controversial China Initiative and replaced it with a broader strategy to counter threats from nation states. The initiative, which drew criticism for the perception it unfairly targeted Chinese-born professors for grant fraud prosecution under a supposedly espionage-driven scheme, was dropped by Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen, who took office last year.
“We have remained very focused on the threat that the PRC poses to our values, our institutions,” Olsen said Monday. “What we’re charging today…demonstrates that we remained relentless and focused on the threat.”
Aaron Schaffer and Eva Dou contributed to this report.