Two individuals have been arrested by the FBI for reportedly operating a covert station in Manhattan’s Chinatown on behalf of China’s police force, the Ministry of public security (MPS). The station was allegedly established in February 2022 and used to track Chinese dissidents residing in the US, as part of a wider campaign of transnational repression against pro-democracy activists and political opponents.
The justice department has also filed charges against 40 MPS officers and four others accused of operating an internet troll operation to harass dissidents on social media and attempting to remove a pro-democracy activist from a US telecoms company. The officers are believed to be part of the MPS unit, the “912 special project working group”, dedicated to pursuing dissidents outside China.
The FBI raided the New York secret police station in October, and two New Yorkers suspected of running it were arrested on Monday. Despite China’s claims that the site was run by volunteers and not connected to the police, evidence now suggests direct ties, according to Breon Peace, the US attorney for the eastern district of New York.
“Two miles from our office, just across the Brooklyn Bridge, this nondescript office building in the heart of bustling Chinatown in lower Manhattan had a dark secret until several months ago. An entire floor of this building hosted an undeclared police station of the Chinese national police,” Peace said.
The station provided some Chinese government services, like helping renew driving licenses, but failed to register with the justice department as agents of a foreign government, the charges said.
“More troubling though is the fact that the secret police station appears to have had a more sinister use,” Peace said.“On at least one occasion, an official with the Chinese national police directed one of the defendants, a US citizen who worked at the secret police station, to help locate a pro-democracy activist of Chinese descent living in California. In other words, the Chinese national police appear to be using the station to track a US resident on US soil.”
Harry Lu Jianwang, 61, and Chen Jinping, 59, the two New York residents arrested for operating the secret police station, are also facing obstruction of justice charges for deleting evidence on their phones related to their contacts with an MPS official prior to the FBI’s October 2022 search of the Chinatown police station. The Justice Department has revealed that the men have admitted to deleting the material from their phones.
“It is simply outrageous that China’s Ministry of public security thinks it can get away with establishing a secret, illegal police station on US soil to aid its efforts to export repression and subvert our rule of law,” Kurt Ronnow, the acting assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, said. “This case serves as a powerful reminder that the People’s Republic of China will stop at nothing to bend people to their will and silence messages they don’t want anyone to hear.”
According to Safeguard Defenders, a Spanish civil rights group, there are reportedly numerous Chinese police stations operating covertly around the world, conducting surveillance and harassment. The alleged stations are primarily located in Europe, with nine in Spain, four in Italy, three in France, two in the Netherlands, and three in the UK (in London and Glasgow), where their activities are being investigated by the police. Additionally, three stations were identified in Canada, contributing to growing political tensions between Beijing and Ottawa. This information was revealed by Safeguard Defenders last year.