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Five charged with spying on U.S. residents for Chinese secret police

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U.S. Justice Department officials announced Wednesday that federal prosecutors have charged five people for allegedly stalking, harassing and spying on U.S. residents on behalf of China’s secret police.

The charges stem from three different complaints, which were unsealed Wednesday by a federal court in Brooklyn, N.Y.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, center
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen announcing that U.S. prosecutors have accused a Chinese agent of harassing an American critic of China who is currently running for Congress. (Emily Elconin/Reuters)

Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen said the cases were examples of what he described as an “alarming rise in transnational repression” by authoritarian governments. Last month, Olsen announced that efforts to fight transnational repression would be a main focus of the National Security Division’s new strategy to combat nation-state threats. “Transnational repression harms people in the United States and around the world and threatens the rule of law itself,” Olsen said at a press conference at Justice Department headquarters in Washington.

Matthew Olsen
Olsen at a National Security Institute event at George Mason University in Arlington, Va., last month. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In one of the alleged schemes, the defendant allegedly worked for the Ministry of State Security, China’s civilian intelligence and secret police agency, and conspired to sabotage the congressional campaign of a U.S. military veteran who, as a student in Beijing in 1989, was a leader of the pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.

Another case accuses three defendants of acting as agents of the Chinese government by spying on and conspiring to disseminate negative information about a number of pro-democracy Chinese dissidents living in New York City, California, Indiana and other parts of the U.S. One of the alleged victims is a Chinese dissident artist living in Los Angeles whose sculpture depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping as a coronavirus molecule was destroyed by the defendants, prosecutors say.

The third case involves the founder of a pro-democracy group in Queens, N.Y., who, according to prosecutors, was secretly working for the Ministry of State Security and allegedly used his position among New York City’s Chinese community to collect information about prominent dissidents, activists and human rights leaders.

Chinese President Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

“All of these victims were targeted because of pro-democracy views, because they chose to exercise their freedom of speech here in the United States,” said Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Peace said the three cases unsealed Wednesday “reveal the outrageous and dangerous lengths” to which the Chinese secret police have gone to “silence, harass, discredit and spy on” dissidents in the U.S.

According to a press release issued by the Justice Department, three of the defendants were arrested this week and were scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Brooklyn on Wednesday afternoon, while the other two remain at large.