Singaporean National Pleads Guilty in US to Spying for Chinese Intelligence

July 24, 2020 Updated: July 26, 2020

A Singaporean national has pleaded guilty to recruiting U.S. government employees to gather intelligence for the Chinese regime, the Justice Department announced on July 24.

Yeo Jun Wei, also known as Dickson Yeo, worked for Chinese intelligence services from 2015 through November 2019, when he was arrested by U.S. authorities upon exiting a China flight.

Using the internet and social media, as well as a fake consulting firm, Yeo recruited unsuspecting Americans who had access to sensitive information to write reports, which he then passed off to Chinese agents, according to court documents.

The court records showed that Yeo had recruited at least three government employees, including a United States Air Force personnel working on a military aircraft with high-level security clearance, a U.S. Army officer, and a State Department employee.

He paid them thousands of dollars for each task, using a bank card provided by Chinese intelligence operatives. He never disclosed to his clients that the reports would be going to the Chinese government.

Yeo came into contact with Chinese intelligence operatives when he traveled to Beijing in 2015 while working on his doctoral degree at the National University of Singapore, according to prosecutors. At least four government-affiliated individuals approached him and eventually recruited him, offering him money in exchange for information about “international, economic, and diplomatic relations.” The tasks focused on Southeast Asia initially but gradually shifted to the United States.

Some of the information these intelligence agents requested involved the U.S. Department of Commerce, artificial intelligence, and the U.S.-China trade war, according to a court filing.

Yeo’s case is among a string of U.S. prosecutions of wrongdoing to benefit the Chinese regime, including at least four researchers who were recently charged for visa fraud on account of concealing their ties to the Chinese military. He entered a guilty plea in Washington on Friday.

Recruitment Scheme

Under the directive of Chinese intelligence operatives, Yeo created a fake consulting company using the name of a prominent U.S. firm that engages in government relations, the court document said. He then posted listings on a job search website, and received more than 400 resumes. Around 90 percent of these resumes were from U.S. military and government officers with security clearances.

He also used a professional career-focused networking site to spot target individuals, checking the site on a near-daily basis, according to the court document. The Chinese agents also directed him to especially seek out those who had financial difficulties and job dissatisfaction.

Through the networking website, Yeo recruited a U.S. Air Force employee working on the F-35B military aircraft and obtained intelligence about the “geopolitical implications” of an aircraft deal with Japan.

Yeo also managed to build rapport with a U.S. Army officer who responded to his job posting. The officer, who confided in Yeo about being traumatized during military tours in Afghanistan, later drafted reports about the impact on China following the United States’ withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, for which Yeo paid him around $2,000. Yeo told the officer the report was for clients in South Korea and other Asian countries.

From another disgruntled employee with the State Department, Yeo obtained a report about a then-serving U.S. Cabinet member for around $1,000 to $2,000.

Yeo frequently traveled to China to meet with the Chinese agents—around 20 times to make contact with one of them, and approximately 25 with another. During these trips, Chinese customs officials regularly took him from the customs line to a separate office, which the agents explained was to conceal his identity.

He had to use multiple phones and change his account on WeChat, a Chinese messaging app, when contacting the agents, according to the court document. They also instructed him to cut off communication while in the United States to avoid detection by the U.S. government.

Yeo’s case, the prosecutors said, highlighted the Chinese regime’s relentless efforts to undermine U.S. national security.

“The tactics Mr. Yeo used to target cleared individuals on professional networking social media sites are just one facet of the full court press China employs on a daily basis to obtain non-public U.S. government information,” said Timothy R. Slater, assistant director of the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) in Washington, in a press release. He urged U.S. citizens to be cautious when anyone approaches them on social media “with implausible career opportunities.”

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