China Sought Thousands of French Experts for Work and Espionage via LinkedIn

October 25, 2018 Updated: October 26, 2018

One way the Chinese regime extends its global subversion and influence is by recruiting and spying on experts abroad. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is trying to recruit or spy on thousands of French experts using fake LinkedIn accounts, according to Le Figaro.

Several hundred people have been compromised, the French paper reported.

Chinese agents targeted some 4,000 French individuals, including civil servants, scientists, high-level managers, and other influential figures, Le Figaro reported on Oct. 23. Of that figure, about 1,700 are employed or otherwise involved with national institutions.

The agents use fake LinkedIn accounts to present themselves as entrepreneurial representatives, think tank members, or consultants, who offer all-expenses-paid trips to China to the experts they are trying to recruit.

The report cited examples of how these experts were enticed. In one instance, a 37-year-old contract executive at the French Ministry for the Economy and Finance was contacted by an Asian recruiter via LinkedIn. The executive accepted an initial meeting in China, which, in fact, involved a tourist “working” excursion to southeast Asia. Following a two-hour interview, the group spent four days scuba diving and visiting scenic tropical islands.

According to Le Figaro, the Chinese agents were able to use this method to establish relationships with their French targets. Meanwhile, the Chinese regime used incriminating photos and financial records from the trips as resources for potential blackmail, thus gaining leverage over the experts.

An Oct. 19 report delivered by French intelligence agencies to Paris warned of a widespread Chinese espionage network using professional social-media accounts, including LinkedIn, to contact important figures.

According to the Le Figaro report, this kind of overt espionage is conducted by the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS), the CCP’s main intelligence agency. The MSS employs about 200,000 people, while the total manpower of France’s General Directorate for External Security, (DGSE), which oversees foreign intelligence, is just 10,000. Despite this gap in numbers, however, French authorities are taking the situation seriously. Citing a French government report, Le Figaro described the extent of the MSS’s activities as representing an “unprecedented threat” to French national security.

Similar Chinese operations have received attention from other European governments. German and British authorities have issued warnings to their citizens regarding CCP attempts to recruit them by various hidden means. A U.S. intelligence official also has publicly addressed the issue.

In December 2017, Germany’s Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), the country’s domestic intelligence agency, warned that China was using fake accounts on LinkedIn and other social media to spy on individuals such as politicians, high-ranking officials, and staff at other high-value institutions. The BfV said more than 10,000 Germans were contacted by Chinese agents using fake accounts.

“Chinese intelligence services are active on networks like LinkedIn and have been trying for a while to extract information and find intelligence sources in this way,” a spokesperson told the Telegraph on Dec. 10, 2017.

In August, Reuters reported that the CCP’s spy agencies are attempting to recruit Americans with access to government and business secrets by using fake LinkedIn profiles.

William Evanina, the U.S. counterintelligence chief, told Reuters the CCP’s spying campaign had contacted thousands of LinkedIn members, but he didn’t reveal details.

U.S. officials have said that the MSS has employed agents to set up fake social-media accounts to seek people who are experts in supercomputing, nuclear energy, semiconductors, health care, green energy, and other sensitive fields.

Zhu Ming, a New York-based commentator, says that as more and more countries become aware of the CCP’s infiltration tactics and take counterintelligence measures, Beijing will find it increasingly difficult to exert global influence.