The FBI has arrested two men suspected of conspiring to act as agents of China from a police outpost operating out of Manhattan's Chinatown.
Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59, were identified as suspects in an ongoing investigation by the FBI and U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn investigating the Chinese police station. It is one of more than 100 known to exist worldwide that has been accused by multiple governments of conducting surveillance operations without diplomatic approval.
An additional 34 officers of China's national police force (MPS) were charged with conducting a massive surveillance campaign that used social media to "harass and threaten Chinese dissidents, amplified divisions among Americans, and undermined confidence in our democratic process," prosecutors said. The defendants are largely in China or elsewhere in Asia.
The FBI's David Sundberg said the arrests showed that the DOJ would hold accountable "authoritarian state actors who seek to threaten the integrity of American public discourse and the right to free expression that underpins our nation's values."
U.S. attorney Breon S. Peace on Monday said that both Lu and Chen are naturalized U.S. citizens. The two men were charged in with obstruction of justice in a "transnational repression" campaign against Chinese dissidents in one of three complaints announced on Monday. Peace accused them of destroying evidence that showed their communications with a local police force in China.
He said that Lu had helped to harass and threaten a dissident if the individual did not return to China, and that he had been enlisted to track down another dissident living in California.
A second complaint charges nearly three dozen members of China's "912 Special Working Project" that worked as a "troll farm" attacking online communities critical of the Communist Party. Some of these incidents include infiltrating video conferences and disrupting the meeting with loud music while screaming vulgar threats to conference participants, U.S. prosecutors alleged.
The defendants are also accused of creating thousands of fake social media accounts impersonating American citizens and then spreading propaganda. The members also allegedly attempted to spread disinformation about the police killing of George Floyd and amplified Russian propaganda about the war efforts in Ukraine.
The third complaint is an amendment to 2020 charges against Julien Jin, a former Zoom employee based out of China who is alleged to have worked with the Chinese government to harass and disrupt video calls commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. Nine others are now charged with having given orders to Jin and assisting in censoring the Zoom meetings.
At least 53 countries have at least one Chinese police outpost, according to human rights group Safeguard Defenders. China has denied numerous allegations of outposts carrying out surveillance operations, and has said that they offer administrative services such as renewing Chinese driver licenses and obtaining travel documents.
In October, Ireland became the first country to order a station to shut down after receiving credible evidence that employees at a Dublin outpost were spying on dissidents in Europe.
Chinese state media has so far not reported on the complaints. The Chinese Embassy in D.C. did not immediately reply to Semafor's request for comment.