On Wednesday, October 28, The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested five agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government operating in three states across the United States. The agents were accused of targeting and coercing a former government employee and critic of the state. Charges were brought up against eight individuals, three of whom are believed to have returned to China. BBC News reports, the defendants are being charged with conspiring to act as illegal agents of the PRC without registering with the U.S. government.
Six of the agents received an additional charge of conspiracy to commit interstate and international stalking. If the defendants are found guilty, they could face five to ten years in prison. The agents were arrested in three different states – one in New Jersey, two in New York, and two in California. Axios writes that the defendants’ names are Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Hongru Jin, Zhu Yong, and Michael McMahon. McMahon is a former New York City police officer, working as a private investigator, who was hired to locate and gather intelligence about the Chinese dissident.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the actions of the Chinese agents are part of a large-scale international effort by the PRC, known as Operation Fox Hunt, to locate and repatriate dissidents of the government. The goal of these operations is to charge and punish dissidents for their opposition to the Chinese Communist Party and the State. However, while the PRC describes Operation Fox Hunt as an anti-corruption campaign, they have failed to utilize the proper law enforcement channels, such as the Interpol. Instead, the PRC government is engaging in illegal, clandestine, and unsanctioned conduct within the United States.
Court documents reveal the Chinese agents were targeting a New Jersey resident, referred to as John Doe, along with his family. NBC reports that they intimidated and harassed this former government employee, in an attempt to coerce him to return to China and face prison time. Several coercion tactics were deployed against Doe to threaten, bully, and intimidate. According to Al Jazeera, the agents allegedly left a note on the man’s door saying, “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be alright. That’s the end of this matter!”
Not only was his home often surveilled, but his daughter and father were also directly targeted. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the PRC flew in the victim’s elderly father to the U.S. from China as further proof of their preparedness to harm his family. In addition, Doe’s daughter was harassed and threatened online as part of the pressure campaign against her father.
During a press conference, FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed his displeasure for the illegal actions of the PRC on American soil. According to Al Jazeera, he explained that “China is violating norms and laws left and right” and highlighted the successful work of the FBI in deterring clandestine Chinese action in the United States. He further stated, “Today’s charges reflect yet another example of China’s ongoing and widespread lawless behavior -and our refusal to tolerate it,” The BBC reports.
While the arrests show the FBI’s willingness to deter illegal agents of foreign governments operating in the U.S., they are among a litany of steps the Trump administration has taken against China. The Washington Post explains that along with the arrests of the Chinese agents, the American government has opposed the PRC’s abnormal and unsanctioned behavior regarding hacking and intellectual property theft, COVID-19 vaccine information, and trade.