US Attorney General Merrick Garland accuses Beijing of trying to "interfere with" and "undermine" the American justice system by harassing dissidents and pressuring US academics to work for them
Washington (AFP) - Top US justice officials accused the Chinese government Monday of an unrelenting campaign by intelligence operatives to subvert the American justice system and steal commercial secrets.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray detailed three separate cases in which Beijing’s spies allegedly harassed dissidents inside the United States, tried to interfere in the prosecution of a Chinese telecoms giant understood to be Huawei, and pressured US academics to work for them.
Thirteen Chinese nationals who allegedly worked for Beijing’s spy agencies have been indicted in the cases and two of them have been arrested.
The cases showed that China “sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our judicial system that protects those rights,” said Garland.
“The Justice Department will not tolerate attempts by any foreign power to undermine the rule of law upon which our democracy is based,” the top US law enforcement officer said.
Garland, Wray, and other top justice officials spoke about the cases in a press conference in Washington one day after Xi Jinping secured a historic third term as China’s leader.
US officials have tied Xi to what they see as a growing effort by Chinese intelligence agencies over the past decade to steal US intellectual property and to crack down on Chinese political dissidents in the United States.
Asked whether the announcements Monday were timed to Xi’s confirmation as the Chinese Communist Party’s all-powerful general secretary on Sunday, Wray avoided any specific link.
“We bring cases when they’re ready. And that’s probably the simplest answer and most straightforward answer to that, as far as what signal they send,” the FBI chief said.
“If the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, continues to violate our laws, they are going to keep encountering the FBI,” he said.
- Huawei case interference -
In a case cited Monday but unveiled last week, seven Chinese nationals allegedly tried to force a US resident to go back to China. Two people were arrested, but five others – all allegedly employees of Chinese intelligence agencies – remain at large, likely in China.
In the second case, two Chinese intelligence officials working from China tried to recruit a US government employee to provide them inside information on the Justice Department’s prosecution of Huawei.
In 2019 Huawei was charged with a systematic campaign to steal US trade secrets, sanctions evasion and other counts.
The two agents believed they had recruited a US government official to work for them and paid the person $61,000 worth of bitcoin to supply internal documents related to the case against Huawei.
But the informant was in fact a double agent who worked with the FBI on the case.
The third case involved Chinese intelligence operatives who worked for the Ministry of State Security posing as academics to recruit operatives in the United States.
From 2008 to at least 2018, they targeted professors, former security officials and others with access to sensitive information and technology for recruitment.
“In all three of these cases, and frankly, in thousands of others, we found the Chinese government threatening established democratic norms and the rule of law as they work to undermine US economic security and fundamental human rights,” said Wray.
The US Justice Department has announced at least a half-dozen similar cases against alleged Chinese intelligence officers so far this year.
Wray said the threat is constant, and that the FBI opens a Chinese counterintelligence investigation “about every 12 hours.”
In response to the announcements, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said “China has always asked its citizens to obey the laws and regulations of the countries they are in.”
“Some people in US law enforcement… have openly provided shelter for Chinese fugitives and obstructed China’s efforts to chase down fugitives, turning the US into a safe haven for the corrupt and for lawbreakers,” Wang told reporters at a routine briefing.