The FBI has arrested two U.S. residents for operating a Chinese “secret police station” in New York, and prosecutors have charged nearly three dozen more people for running an online troll farm as part of a trio of law enforcement actions announced Monday centered on the Chinese government’s attempts to silence and harass dissidents and activists.
The actions are part of a sustained effort by U.S. authorities to target the People’s Republic of China’s meddling in the U.S. and its broader campaign to suppress speech and hunt down dissidents.
“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,” Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement announcing the actions.
Authorities arrested “Harry” Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59, Monday morning for running an “illegal overseas” police outpost in Lower Manhattan connected to the Chinese government’s Ministry of Public Security, or MPS – the vast action arm of the Chinese Communist Party tasked with eliminating dissent it considers a threat to its rule.
According to prosecutors, one of the defendants was enlisted in a bid to harass and threaten a purported Chinese fugitive in order to get the individual to return to China, and the ministry also directed the men to locate a pro-democracy activist living in California.
“The defendants’ actions under the direction of the Chinese government are flagrant violations of American sovereignty,” Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said during a press conference announcing the arrests.
“New York City is home to New York’s finest, the NYPD. We don’t need or want a secret police station in our great city,” Peace said.
Authorities searched and shut down the illegal police station last fall and interviewed the men.
Foreign agents must in general register with the U.S. government before conducting business on U.S. soil, which the men did not do.
Prosecutors say the defendants deleted communications with the ministry from their phones and are being charged with obstruction of justice as a result.
In a separate case also announced Monday, prosecutors have charged 34 Ministry of Public Security officers for creating “thousands” of fake online profiles on social media sites to target, harass and threaten Chinese dissidents. The officers are suspected of residing in China and remain at large.
The officers worked with Beijing’s Ministry of Public Security bureau and were assigned to an elite task force called the “912 Special Project Working Group,” which sought to target those critical of the Chinese regime around the world.
The group also disseminated Chinese propaganda, sought to exacerbate political divisions within the U.S., and in some cases shut down or interrupted the free speech of dissidents. In one event, prosecutors say group members infiltrated a video conference hosted by a dissident on the topic of countering communication and flooded the call with loud music, threats and vulgar screams. In another instance, members threatened participants on a video call to commemorate the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, according to authorities.
“We cannot and will not tolerate the Chinese government’s persecution of pro-democracy activists who have sought refuge in this country. And let this prosecution serve as a warning that we remain resolved and steadfast to fight against the efforts by the Chinese Communist Party to oppress and intimidate our residents,” Peace said Monday.
And in a connected action, prosecutors announced an amended criminal complaint charging 10 people, including a China-based employee of the unnamed U.S. telecommunications company, for harassing dissidents.
The Justice Department first announced charges against the employee, Julien Jin, in 2020 for his efforts to shut down video conferences commemorating the 1989 pro-democracy protests that ended in bloodshed at Tiananmen Square, and Jin and others used the company’s systems to censor the speech of U.S. residents at the behest of the Chinese government. Jin and others also used the company’s systems to disrupt meetings held by Chinese dissidents in New York City and elsewhere.
Jin served as the company’s liaison with Chinese government law enforcement and intelligence services, and he regularly acted on requests from the government to shut meetings and block users. The amended complaint reveals that Jin was acting on direct orders from the Ministry of Public Security and other arms of the Chinese government.
“These cases demonstrate that the Chinese Communist Party, once again, attempted to intimidate, harass, and suppress Chinese dissidents in the United States,” David Sundberg, assistant director in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office, said in a statement. “In the United States, the freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy, and the FBI will work tirelessly to defend everyone’s right to speak freely without fear of retribution from the CCP.”