Garland announces arrest of Chinese spies who stole confidential information

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks as Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and FBI Director Christopher Wray look on Monday during a press conference announcing the arrest and indictment of Chinese spies. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
1 of 4 | U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks as Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and FBI Director Christopher Wray look on Monday during a press conference announcing the arrest and indictment of Chinese spies. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Monday the arrest and indictment of Chinese spies accused of stealing confidential information and harassing Chinese victims living in the United States to return to China.

"Over the past week, the Justice Department has taken several actions to disrupt criminal activity by individuals working on behalf of the government of the People's Republic of China," Garland said.


Garland said that earlier Monday that a complaint was unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York charging two Chinese intelligence officers with attempting to obstruct, influence and impede a criminal prosecution of a telecommunications company based in China.

In total, 13 people were charged in three separate cases in the harassment and espionage schemes, the Justice Department said.

One complaint alleged that, in 2019, the defendants directed an employee at a U.S. government law enforcement agency to steal confidential information about the United States' criminal prosecution of the company.


"The defendants believed they had recruited the U.S. employee as an asset, but in fact, the individual they recruited was a double agent working on behalf of the FBI," Garland said.

Those defendants, identified as Dong He and Zheng Wang, allegedly paid a bribe of $41,000 in Bitcoin to the double agent to obtain non-public information, including files from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District.

Garland said that the Chinese spies had sought confidential information on witnesses, trial evidence and potential new charges to be brought against the company.

"The double agent provided the defendants with documents that appeared to present some of the information they sought. In fact, the documents were prepared by the U.S. government for this investigation and did not reveal actual meetings, communications or strategies," Garland said.

"This was an egregious attempt by PRC intelligence officers to shield a PRC-based company from accountability and to undermine the integrity of our judicial system."

Dong He and Zheng Wang were each charged with attempting to obstruct a criminal prosecution.

He also was charged with money laundering for the Bitcoin bribe and faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

An indictment also was unsealed Monday in New Jersey charging four individuals including three Chinese intelligence officers working with the Ministry of State Security with conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents on behalf of a foreign government.


Those defendants were identified as Wang Lin, 59; Bi Hongwei, age unknown; Dong Ting, aka Chelsea Dong, 40; and Wang Qiang, 55.

The spies allegedly used an affiliation with the purported Institute for International Studies at the Ocean University of China as their cover.

"The indictment alleges that between 2008 and 2018, the defendants used the cover of a purported academic institute to target, coopt and direct individuals in the United States to further the PRC's intelligence mission," Garland said.

Garland said that those directives included attempts to procure equipment and technology from the United States and ship them to China, as well as attempts to stop protests in the United States he said "would have been embarrassing to the Chinese government."

Separately, the Justice Department charged seven people in New York for working on behalf of China "in a multi-year campaign of threats and harassment" to force a U.S. resident to return to China.

Two of those defendants were arrested last Thursday and identified as Quanzhong An, 55, and Guangyang An, 34.

The other defendants -- who remain at large -- are Tian Peng, Chenghua Chen, Chunde Ming, Xuexin Hou and Weidong Yuan.

Garland said that those activities were part of a Chinese initiative called Operation Foxhunt to locate and bring back to China alleged fugitives who fled to foreign countries, including the United States.


"The PRC has a history of targeting political dissidents and critics of the government who have sought relief and refuge in other countries," Garland said.

"The indictment alleges that the defendants working at the direction of the government of the PRC engaged in a campaign of harassment, threats, surveillance and intimidation aimed at coercing the victim to return to China."

The victim was identified as John Doe in the court documents.

Garland added that the defendants threatened and harassed the victim's family members, both in the U.S. and in China -- and even forced the victim's nephew to travel from China to convey China's threats to the victim's son.

The defendants allegedly threatened the victim, saying, "Coming back and turning yourself in is the only way out."

"They showed up at the home of the victim's son in New York. They filed frivolous lawsuits against the victim and his son and said it would be 'endless misery' for [victim] and son to defend themselves," Garland said.

"And they made clear that their harassment would not stop until the victim returned to China."

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Monday that the cases take place "against a backdrop of malign activity" by China that includes espionage, harassment and obstruction of the U.S. justice system.


Monaco added that the cases "make clear that Chinese agents will not hesitate to break the law and violate international norms in the process."

"This case exposes interconnection between PRC intelligence officers and Chinese companies and it demonstrates once again why such companies, especially in the telecommunications industry, shouldn't be trusted to securely handle our sensitive personal data and communications," she said.

The arrests and indictments were announced just a day after China's President Xi Jinping on Sunday assumed his third five-year term in power.

The 69-year-old Xi, who assumed power in 2012, was named again as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Only CCP founder Mao Zedong has ever served a third term.

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