CCP Intelligence Operations in the US

CCP Intelligence Operations in the US
A balloon is held at a press conference and rally in front of the America ChangLe Association highlighting Beijing's transnational repression, in New York City on Feb. 25, 2023. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Antonio Graceffo

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are ramping up efforts to counter CCP intelligence operations in the U.S.

On May 11, the FBI arrested an alleged Chinese spy in Boston. Litang Liang was accused of spying on U.S.-based Chinese dissidents and critics of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime. This latest arrest comes as part of an ongoing campaign by the CCP to silence critics abroad. To dissuade pro-democracy activists and others who speak out against the CCP, Beijing uses physical threats, online harassment, and clandestine operations in foreign countries.
Chinese security forces have implemented campaigns, such as Operation Fox Hunt, which was meant to coerce people wanted by the regime to return to China and stand trial. This is often achieved through intimidation, threatening the person’s family back in China, or outright abduction. Last month, the FBI raided a secret Chinese police station in New York City, which prosecutors identified as part of the CCP’s “transnational repression” campaign.
The CCP is carrying out an increasing number of intelligence and covert operations in Western democracies, where human rights and personal freedoms are often exploited to avoid detection. Allegations of and investigations into secret police stations have cropped up in Canada and in Europe. So far, 14 countries are investigating secret Chinese police stations on their soil. And on May 8, Canada expelled a Chinese diplomat for attempting to intimidate a Canadian lawmaker who challenged the CCP on human rights grounds.
The CCP’s covert networks are extensive, not only in the number of countries they cover but also in the number of agents employed. At the same time that the Chinese police station was raided in New York City, 34 officials of China’s Ministry of Public Security were charged by U.S. prosecutors with creating thousands of fake online accounts which they used to harass and menace opponents of the regime.
United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace and other officials are seen at the U.S. Attorney's office in New York City on April 17, 2023. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)
United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace and other officials are seen at the U.S. Attorney's office in New York City on April 17, 2023. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)
Not only Chinese nationals or ethnic Chinese are being targeted by CCP espionage programs, but also Americans who could be of use to the regime either by providing political influence or by stealing U.S. secrets. These efforts are directed at businesses, academic institutions, researchers, lawmakers, and the general public. The FBI has identified countering the severe threat of the CCP’s counterintelligence and economic espionage campaign as a top priority. CCP tactics are meant to influence lawmakers and public opinion to support government policies that are more favorable to Beijing. CCP head Xi Jinping has stated that his goal is for China to become the world’s greatest superpower, displacing the United States militarily, economically, and diplomatically. To achieve this end, the CCP employs a number of tools, including predatory lending and business practices, theft of intellectual property, forced intellectual property transfer, industrial espionage, acquisition of foreign companies, and cyber hacking. This economic espionage converges with overseas influence operations on U.S. campuses, in R&D departments, and in U.S. research labs where Chinese researchers are often co-opted or coerced, or have their families threatened if they refuse to steal secrets for the CCP.

Last year, the FBI announced that they were opening a new China-related espionage investigation roughly once every ten hours. In April 2023, Homeland Security announced they were launching initiatives to combat malicious artificial intelligence controlled by the CCP. This included attempts to influence public opinion and legislation by spreading misinformation, or outright attacks on U.S. critical infrastructure, such as power grids. Apart from silencing critics, Homeland Security reports that the CCP is exploiting immigration and travel systems to spy on the U.S. government as well as private companies and individuals.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and Section 951 of the Espionage Act make it clear that anyone inside of the United States acting on behalf of the CCP can be classified as a foreign agent. If they fail to register as such, they can be subject to arrest and prosecution. Last year, the Justice Department invoked the FARA to arrest and charge 25 people. While this is a step in the right direction, the real number of people meeting the definition of foreign agent must be much higher. This includes people paid by the CCP to lobby, spy, or engage in “influence operations.” In total, the FBI has over 2,000 open investigations into Chinese spies in the United States.
The CCP is not only guilty of transnational repression of dissenters and stealing America’s secrets, they are also killing Americans with illegal drugs. Along with looking for ways to counter the CCP intelligence threat, Homeland Security is also exploring ways to break the global fentanyl supply chain. The supply chain begins with precursor chemicals for fentanyl being shipped from China to Mexico. Cartels then manufacture the illicit and deadly drug. It is smuggled into the United States across the Southern border. Once in the United States, it is distributed by street gangs affiliated with the cartels. More than 100,000 Americans die of drug overdoses each year, roughly 70 percent of which are from fentanyl.
Some U.S. lawmakers want to declare drug cartels as international terrorist organizations. If that happens, China could be held accountable for selling precursor chemicals to the cartels and for helping them launder their money. By similar logic, could drug dealers in the United States be considered foreign agents, working on behalf of the CPP? Legislation in the United States generally moves slower because of the need to protect personal freedoms and liberties. Meanwhile, China is expanding its own anti-espionage laws, making business consulting and a number of other common business services effectively illegal. It seems a bit of a contradiction that a U.S. accountant in China could be charged with spying for auditing the books of his clients, while CCP agents can operate out of secret police stations in the United States, influencing opinion, shutting down dissenters, or forcing graduate students to steal secrets.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Antonio Graceffo, PhD, is a China economic analyst who has spent more than 20 years in Asia. Mr. Graceffo is a graduate of the Shanghai University of Sport, holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University, and currently studies national defense at American Military University. He is the author of “Beyond the Belt and Road: China’s Global Economic Expansion” (2019).
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