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U.S. DOJ Takes Action Against Secret Chinese Police Station Operating in Manhattan

“This fact pattern underscores the insider threat risk facing any U.S. company that does business in China and has employees in China.”

David Newman, principal deputy assistant attorney general for national security at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), issued that warning yesterday during remarks detailing recent DOJ actions, including arresting two individuals charged with running a secret Chinese police department in Manhattan.

Through the arrests, as well as two other actions, the DOJ highlighted activities it says the People's Republic of China (PRC) is using to apply intimidation and misinformation to crack down on dissident activities that occur around the world and to involuntarily repatriate citizens.

The DOJ alleges that Lu Jianwang, 61; and Chen Jinping, 59; opened and operated the police outpost to find and intimidate Chinese dissidents who were living in the United States.

In one of the other two actions, the DOJ unsealed charges against 34 officers of China’s Ministry of Public Security, accusing them of conspiracy to transmit interstate threats and conspiracy to commit interstate harassment. All 34 were charged in abstentia and likely reside in China. The charges allege that as part of their work with the 912 Special Project Working Group, the officers created thousands of fake online personas and used them to target, harass, and discredit Chinese dissidents through social channels.

“As alleged, the PRC government deploys its national police and the 912 Special Project Working Group not as an instrument to uphold the law and protect public safety, but rather 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,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. 

The third action added nine people as defendants in a case that started in 2020. The case alleges that a Zoom employee based in China acted as a government agent and disrupted and censored meetings that were using the platform. All 10 of the accused in the case likely reside in China or countries allied with China.

“The trio of cases announced today detail how the People’s Republic of China, through its Ministry of Public Security, has engaged in a multi-front campaign to extend the reach and impacts of its authoritarian system into the United States and elsewhere around the world,” Newman said. “It shows the PRC’s efforts to globalize the oppressive tactics used domestically in China to silence dissent.”

While the idea that China would be running an outpost in Manhattan with the purpose of finding and quelling dissent may be jarring, intelligence operations around the world are aware of and monitor the practice.

A report from the nonprofit group Safeguard Defenders released last year described more than 100 such police stations around the world. 

“As part of a massive nationwide campaign to combat the growing issue of fraud and telecommunication fraud by Chinese nationals living abroad, Chinese authorities claim that from April 2021 to July 2022, 230,000 nationals had been ‘persuaded to return’ to face criminal proceedings in China,” according to the report.

The report noted that direct kidnappings were not a known tactic of these operations. Rather, the two main tactics used were to find the target’s family members in China and deprive them of rights such as education of children as well as more severe actions including imprisoning relatives, and to approach the targets directly with threatening and harassing activity.

The use of private investigators and security personnel to carry out transnational repression has also increased. Nation-state actors employ these individuals to pressure activists and dissidents into remaining silent or pulling them back to their homelands.

“While the scope of transnational repression efforts is currently unknown, FBI officials have noticed a commonality: the use of private security professionals to conduct in-country dirty work,” according to previous Security Management coverage. “Investigators are usually participating unwittingly, but that does not necessarily shield them from consequences if they do not cooperate in law enforcement investigations or if they ignore red flags.”