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Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024

Justice Department Charges 2 Chinese Citizens With Spying for Huawei

Two men suspected of being Chinese intelligence officers have been charged with attempting to obstruct a U.S. criminal investigation and prosecution of Chinese tech giant Huawei
The Justice Department announced on Monday that it had indicted two Chinese intelligence officials who are believed to have unsuccessfully tried to obtain inside information about a federal investigation into a Chinese telecommunications company accused of stealing trade secrets, which people familiar with the situation later identified as Huawei Technologies.

The Chinese intelligence officials, Guochun He and Zheng Wang, paid bribes to an official with access to sensitive details of the investigation into Huawei by the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York, according to charging documents unsealed on Monday. The person turned out to be an agent working for the F.B.I. who handed over phony documents.

The indictment was part of three unrelated legal actions against Chinese operatives in the United States that senior law enforcement officials announced on Monday, a day after President Xi Jinping of China solidified his grip on power as the Communist Party congress in Beijing closed.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Christopher A. Wray, the director of the F.B.I., issued blunt denunciations of China during a news conference, accusing the country’s leaders of meddling in the American judicial system, stealing technology and bullying Chinese citizens who emigrate to the United States.

“The government of China sought to interfere with the rights and freedoms of individuals in the United States and to undermine our judicial system that protects those rights,” Mr. Garland told reporters. “We will continue to fiercely protect the rights guaranteed to everyone in our country.”

Mr. Wray said the cases, which total 13 indictments and two arrests, “highlight the threat” that China’s intelligence services pose to “rights of people in the United States.”

The bureau has identified 10 of the 13 people charged as intelligence agents, and will continue to focus on rooting out other Chinese agents, he said.

The cases could cast a shadow over an effort by the Biden administration and TikTok to resolve national security concerns posed by the Chinese-owned video app. A draft agreement between the two parties has faced some skepticism among some administration officials, including Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco — who said the new allegations involving Huawei should serve as a warning to U.S. officials.

“This case exposes the interconnection between intelligence officers and Chinese companies, and it demonstrates once again why such companies especially in the telecommunications industry shouldn’t be trusted to securely handle our sensitive personal data and communications,” Ms. Monaco said on Monday.

In the Huawei case unsealed in Brooklyn federal court, the two Chinese intelligence operatives contacted an official with knowledge of the department’s investigation into Huawei in 2019, asking for documents, including trial evidence and witness lists, as well as summaries of confidential strategy meetings. Neither operative is in custody.

They did not know the official was working with the F.B.I.

Since that time, they have paid the official $41,000 in Bitcoin in exchange for what they believed to be inside information on the case. Instead, the F.B.I.’s double agent sent them a phony document, marked “Secret,” which contained publicly available information.

Mr. He responded by telling the official, who was not identified, that the company was “obviously interested” in receiving more stolen material, according to court documents.

Huawei has been a persistent target of the United States government since the administration of President Donald J. Trump, which worried that the company could give Beijing access to sensitive information that travels over telecommunications networks. And the government’s efforts are part of a larger push to limit China’s influence over American consumers.

In February 2020, the Justice Department indicted Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer, and two U.S. subsidiaries, over the company’s use of “fraud and deception” to obtain sophisticated technology from U.S. companies.

Top American officials told allies around the world that they should exclude the Chinese company’s equipment from their next-generation wireless networks. The Commerce Department blacklisted the company in a bid to cut off its access to key American supplies for its products.

Congress has provided money to reimburse American telecom operators who stop using equipment made by Chinese companies like Huawei.

The Federal Communications Commission is also expected to vote soon on a measure to ban new Huawei products from being sold in the United States. It already blocks companies from spending federal subsidies on the gear.

The government has also sought to rein in the influence of other Chinese companies.

The Trump administration forced a Chinese company to sell Grindr, the dating app. It also tried to ban the viral video app TikTok unless its Chinese parent company sold a share of the app to an American company.

Also on Monday, the Justice Department unsealed an indictment in Brooklyn charging seven people with engaging in a multiyear harassment campaign to force an unnamed U.S. resident to return to China as part of a repatriation effort known as Operation Fox Hunt.

Two of those charged, Quanzhong An, 55, and Guangyang An, 34, both of Roslyn, N.Y., were arrested; the others remain at large, according to the department.

In another case unsealed on Monday, the U.S. attorney in the District of New Jersey charged four people, including three Chinese intelligence officers, with recruiting agents while working under the cover of an academic institute, according to the charging documents.

None of them are in U.S. custody.
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