More evidence uncovered of Chinese spy programs that target expatriates

Chinese Ministry of State Security

AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE activities of China’s state security apparatus has uncovered more evidence of the existence of a worldwide spy operation aimed at forcibly repatriating fugitives and dissidents living abroad, including many who reside in Western countries. The operation, code-named FOXHUNT (first reported in 2015), and a sister-project, code-named SKYHUNT, were launched in 2014. They reportedly constitute a major pillar of the nationwide campaign against corruption, which was initiated in 2012 by Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. This extensive campaign is so far believed to have led to the indictment of over 100,000 people for financial crimes, though critics say it is also being used by Xi to neutralize political opponents and dissidents across China.

The investigative group ProPublica, which carried out the study of FOXHUNT and SKYHUNT, said on Thursday that the same techniques used to capture international fugitives wanted for financial crimes, are also employed against expatriates who criticize the Chinese state’s politics. Most of the targets of these operations live in countries that are located near China —such as Vietnam, Laos, or Malaysia. Thousands of others, however, live in Western Europe, Australia and the United States, where “hundreds of people, including US citizens”, have been targeted by the Chinese state, according to ProPublica.

Operations FOXHUNT and SKYHUNT are carried out by “undercover repatriation teams” of Chinese government agents, who allegedly enter foreign countries “under false pretenses”, according to ProPublica. At the same time, Chinese intelligence officers enlist expatriates as assets and use them as “intermediaries to shield Chinese officers”, said the report. These intermediaries are coached to “relentlessly hound their targets”, or surveil their activities and report about them to their handlers.

In several countries, including Vietnam and Australia, Chinese “undercover repatriation teams” have at times abducted their targets, “defying with impunity [local] laws” and international borders, the ProPublica report claims. But in countries like the United States, the Chinese tread more lightly, relying mainly on coercion aimed at compelling their targets to voluntarily return to China. In many cases, according to the report, authorities in China have subjected their targets’ family members to “harassment, jail [or] torture”. Allegedly, they have even recorded “hostage-like videos” that were shown to the targets of the repatriation operations, in an effort to force them to return to China.

Alongside wealthy Chinese tycoons with oversized offshore bank accounts, repatriation targets have reportedly included political dissidents and whistleblowers who had managed to escape abroad. Other victims were members of the Tibetan or Uighur communities in exile, as well as followers of religious sects, such as the Falun Gong. The Chinese government denies that operations FOXHUNT and SKYHUNT exist. But critics claim that Beijing’s forced repatriation program is real, and reflects “the authoritarian nature of the Chinese government and their use of government power to enforce conformity and repress dissent”, ProPublica reports.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 July 2021 | Permalink

US warns China against use of non-official-cover operatives

Chinese Ministry of State SecurityThe White House has warned the Chinese government to stop deploying on American soil intelligence operatives masquerading as tourists, business executives or other false covers. Nowadays the standard practice for intelligence personnel deployed abroad is to be posted as diplomatic staff in a foreign embassy or consulate. But there are some intelligence officers who do not follow that practice. These are known as non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs in American intelligence parlance. NOCs are typically high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that is employing them. They typically pose as business executives, students, academics, journalists, or non-profit agency workers. Unlike official-cover officers, who are protected by diplomatic immunity, NOCs have no such protection. If arrested by authorities of their host country, they can be tried and convicted for operating as unregistered agents of a foreign government.

According to The New York Times, a significant number of Chinese NOCs have recently entered the United States as part of the Chinese government’s Operation FOX HUNT. Supervised by China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), FOX HUNT is aimed at the thousands of former officials and other fugitives from China, who are alleged to have embezzled funds and are now living abroad, usually in considerable wealth. As part of the MSS operation, teams of intelligence agents are said to have been dispatched around the world in order to hunt down these fugitives, many of whom are believed to have embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds. Chinese media reports claim that nearly 1000 such fugitives have been “repatriated”, either voluntarily or involuntarily, since the launch of FOX HUNT. The tactics used by the Chinese NOCs are not clear, and some suspect that they include direct or indirect threats against the fugitives’ family members in China. Chinese reports have described FOX HUNT operatives as “mostly young, highly skilled”, and accustomed to “rapid-fire deployment” around the world.

The Times said that Washington views the parts of Operation FOX HUNT that take place on US soil as “a departure from the routine practice of secret government intelligence gathering” that both America and China practice against each other. The US, therefore, does not want Chinese officers without official diplomatic credentials, but posing instead as students, tourists or business representatives, engaging in intelligence operations on US soil, said the paper. It added that Washington’s warning had been delivered to Beijing “in recent weeks”. The Times article did not include specific descriptions of FOX RUN activities on American soil.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 August 2015 | Permalink

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