U.S. law enforcement officials on Monday unsealed charges against two Chinese intelligence officers accused of attempting to obstruct the Justice Department's criminal prosecution of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies.
The charges are part of three separate criminal cases announced Monday against 13 Chinese nationals, including 10 agents and government officials.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and other top law enforcement officials announced the charges at a press conference in Washington.
"As these cases demonstrate, 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. They did not succeed," Garland said.
While officials did not name Huawei, a criminal complaint charging the two Chinese intelligence officers contained unmistakable details about the Chinese telecom provider, which was indicted in 2019 on charges of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.
The two Chinese intelligence agents, identified in court documents as Dong He and Zheng Wang, are accused of attempting to obtain secret information about the Huawei investigation from a U.S. government employee they believed they had recruited as an asset.
The person turned out to be a double agent working for the FBI.
"Today's complaint underscores the unrelenting efforts of the PRC [People's Republic of China] government to undermine the rule of law," said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. "We will always act decisively to counteract criminal acts that target our system of justice."
He and Wang are charged with attempting to obstruct a criminal prosecution. Additionally, Dong faces one count of money laundering for offering a $41,000 Bitcoin bribe to the U.S. double agent.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on the Justice Department charges.
According to The Guardian, arrest warrants have been issued for the two men, but whether they will be taken into custody remains to be seen. Both men are understood to be based in China.
The other two cases announced on Monday involve a Chinese intelligence campaign to recruit U.S.-based agents and a separate effort by the Chinese government to coerce Chinese dissidents and others living overseas into returning to China.
In the agent recruitment scheme, four Chinese nationals, including three Ministry of State Security intelligence officers, are accused of running a 10-year campaign to target prospective agents in the United States, according to an indictment unsealed on Monday.
Using the cover of working for Ocean University of China, the MSS officers and others targeted American university professors and others with access to sensitive information and equipment, the indictment alleges.
One of their targets was a former federal law enforcement and state homeland security official who taught at an American university.
During all-expenses-paid trips to China in 2008 and 2018, the unnamed individual was asked to sign a consulting contract with a Chinese company "whose 'core value' was the 'national interest and national security' of China," according to prosecutors.
Suspecting his recruiters were MSS agents, the professor refused and reported them to U.S. law enforcement.
The three MSS officers are charged with conspiracy to act as agents of a foreign government. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum of five years in prison.
The third case charges seven Chinese nationals with taking part in a two-decade scheme to force a long-sought U.S.-based Chinese national to return to China.
The effort was part of China's Operation Fox Hunt, an initiative that China says is aimed at arresting corrupt officials and businessmen who have fled China. U.S. officials, on the other hand, describe it as an "extralegal repatriation effort" designed to target Chinese dissidents around the world.
The U.S.-based individual the group sought to return to China was on China's list of 100 top priority fugitives under Operation Fox Hunt.
As early as 2002, China got Interpol to issue a red notice alert for the individual's arrest.
Two of the seven individuals allegedly involved in the scheme — Quanzhong An, a U.S. permanent resident, and Guangyang An, a naturalized U.S. citizen — were arrested on Thursday.
The charges against the Chinese nationals come months after the Justice Department ended a Trump-era program known as the China Initiative following criticism that it was unfairly targeting innocent Chinese Americans.
Despite the initiative's disbandment, law enforcement officials say their efforts to combat China's nefarious activities in the United States, from harassing Chinese dissidents to stealing corporates secrets, remain unabated.
FBI Director Wray noted that the FBI opens a new China counterintelligence investigation every 12 hours.