China, Iran, and other repressive foreign governments are targeting their critics in the United States and recruiting “pawns” to help facilitate their schemes, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.
In a new bulletin titled “Don’t Be a Pawn of Repressive Foreign Governments,” the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) and the FBI warn individuals and organizations in the U.S. with access to personal data to be wary of “improper” efforts to obtain that information or other forms of support for “malicious foreign operations.”
One example the agencies provide is an incident that occurred in mid-2020, when Iranian intelligence officials employed a private investigator as part of a foiled plot to kidnap a critic of Iran from the United States.
More recently, in February 2022, the agencies noted that an individual—who was later charged as acting as an illegal agent of the Chinese regime—engaged the help of local U.S. law enforcement and a private investigator in an effort to forcibly repatriate targets of the Chinese Communist Party to China.
In addition to law enforcement and private investigators, other “pawns” malign actors might seek to recruit include social media employees and members of local diaspora communities, the agencies advised.
Chinese Communist ThreatThe new bulletin comes nearly two months after the U.S. government shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the Atlantic coast and amid increasing concerns over the security risks of TikTok, a popular Chinese-owned social media app.
At a March 23 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi attempted to distance TikTok’s parent company, the Chinese technology firm ByteDance, from the Chinese regime.
“ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country,” Chew said. “It is not owned or controlled by any government or state entity.”
But neither Republicans nor Democrats were convinced.
Defending DemocracySpeaking Tuesday ahead of the 2023 Summit for Democracy, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco addressed the Justice Department’s role in defending against malicious plots from hostile governments, which she said aimed to “undermine the rule of law and subvert democracy.”
As evidence, Monaco cited such recent schemes as an Iranian “murder-for-hire” plot targeting a prominent critic of the Iranian regime and the Chinese regime’s efforts to surveil democracy activists and undermine the U.S. congressional candidacy of a military veteran who led the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
“As alleged, these brazen acts of transnational repression violate U.S. law; they infringe on our sovereignty; and perhaps most critically, they are an attack on our most fundamental values,” Monaco said. “Make no mistake: we will use every tool to expose the repressive tactics of autocratic regimes and force their agents to answer for their unlawful behavior. And we will support our allies and partners in doing the same.”