In late October, US prosecutors charged thirteen Chinese agents with conducting illegal operations in the US. Unfortunately, two of the accused are in prison. The other eleven are free to continue their espionage and intimidation operations against American victims from the same place they often operate—China.
These cases show how behind US law enforcement is in the fight to defend America from attacks by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). While accusations against Chinese agents are becoming common, the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.
The October proceedings stemmed from three separate cases. Seven defendants have been indicted in connection with a scheme to force a Chinese citizen residing in the United States to return to China to face charges under Operation Fox Hunt. In another case, two China-based intelligence officials were charged with trying to obtain information from a US government employee to prevent a criminal prosecution of a Chinese company believed to be Huawei. In a third case, four Chinese nationals were charged with involvement in a long-running campaign to recruit Americans to act as Chinese agents.
Cases like these would be effective if the goal was simply to keep Chinese spies away from the United States. Indeed, the arrest all but guarantees that these defendants will never set foot on American soil. But that doesn’t stop them from victimizing Americans, as most of their activities are carried out remotely from China.
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Chinese urban spies routinely target American citizens via social media. They also send out “consulting” offers by email, which they attach to legal-sounding business contracts. Sometimes they even invite their prospective employees on all-expenses-paid trips to China, where they are wined and dined and cajoled into providing information and services beneficial to Beijing.
Repatriation efforts targeting fugitives and dissidents living abroad are run by agents in China who coerce the victims and punish their family members. They also harass victims by sending threatening messages on social media and hiring local thugs to intimidate them.
These far-reaching strategies were all presented in the October cases. Obviously, agents are just as dangerous sitting in front of a computer in China as they are on the streets of American cities. But American law enforcement now seems more interested in exposing their activities than fighting them.
Even when federal agents have the opportunity to arrest a spy, they rarely do so. When high-ranking Chinese agents travel to the United States, federal law enforcement has an inexplicable habit of monitoring their activities and then allowing them to return to China before they are prosecuted. For example, one of the October indictments details how the defendant met with a co-worker in the U.S. in 2016. The FBI publicly eavesdropped on the pair and recorded conversations about their work for the Chinese government. But none were arrested and the suspect returned to China unmolested. With a warrant out for his arrest, there is no chance he will return to stand trial.
In the ‘Operation Fox Hunt’ case that the FBI cracked in 2020, US law enforcement managed to arrest five suspects. However, one of the masterminds behind the operation was allowed to return to China three years ago, even after Customs and Border Protection agents questioned him about the operation and found night vision goggles in his bag. Sights and other protective equipment. Agents likely delayed arresting the suspect to give them time to build the case, but it’s unlikely they’ll get another chance to bring him to justice. The suspect, who was living in New York at the time, has not been seen in the United States since.
The U.S. government must do more to protect the country—and the constitutional rights of all who live here—from these threats.
First, federal agencies need more training, resources, and coordination to counter Chinese espionage. Now, a large number of Chinese espionage cases have been reported in the Eastern District of New York. This is unsettling given that Washington, DC, and tech hubs like San Francisco are likely targets of Chinese espionage, but cases are rarely reported there.
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The Justice Department’s China Initiative was created to provide just these types of resources and coordination. Sadly, the department scrapped the initiative earlier this year, following a smear campaign funded in part by organizations affiliated with the CCP’s Former Unification Labor Department. The Justice Department should reinstate the China Initiative and ensure that it is used to track and trace senior intelligence officials who direct operations.
Second, federal agents should be more proactive in taking Chinese spies into custody. Given how rarely senior Chinese intelligence officials visit the United States, an opportunity to make an arrest should not be missed. Once their involvement in a case is discovered, efforts should be made to bring them to America or a country with which they have an extradition treaty and then arrest them. Only those behind them will be stopped from doing their dirty work. The arrest of several high-ranking Chinese agents would both defend the law and send a message to Beijing that illegal activity targeting the United States will not be tolerated.
Finally, a diplomatic response is warranted. Top officials, including President Joe Biden, should bring up the topics of espionage, forced deportations, and other illegal activities targeting people in America in every conversation they have with their Chinese counterparts. They should not treat the issue as an afterthought in Beijing’s long list of grievances.
China’s actions steal from American businesses and deprive American residents of rights guaranteed by the Constitution. They are a serious threat to America’s economic, political, and social systems and, indeed, to its sovereignty. It is time for the government to take this threat seriously.
This piece originally appeared on The National Interest https://nationalinterest.org/feature/united-states-must-go-war-against-china%E2%80%99s-spies-205935