The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Wang Shujun, an American citizen of Chinese origin, and four Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) members with conspiracy, espionage, transnational persecution, and other crimes.
The May 17 indictment, received in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, alleges the five spied on prominent pro-democracy activists, dissidents, and human rights leaders and conspired to silence critics of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the United States and beyond.
Wang Shujun, a 73-year-old American citizen and a resident of Queens, has been active in the pro-democracy movement in the eastern United States. Wang is from Qingdao, Shandong Province, and he came to the United States as a visiting scholar in 1994. After the “Hu Yaobang Zhao Ziyang Foundation” was established in 2006, Wang Shujun served as the general secretary of the foundation until 2020.
The four Chinese State Security officials charged are Feng He, aka “Boss He,” of Guangdong; Jie Ji, of Qingdao; Ming Li, aka Datang (Elder Tang), Xiao Li (Little Li) of Guangdong; and Keqing Lu, also known as “Boss Lu,” of Qingdao. Wang was arrested on criminal charges on March 16, 2022, and will be arraigned later. He, Ji, Li, and Lu are still at large.
Four Chinese national security officials suspected of espionage: Feng He (lower right); Jie Ji (lower left); Ming Li (upper right); and Keqing Lu (top left). (Screenshot of the indictment)
Materials disclosed by the U.S. Department of Justice show: “Since at least 2015, Wang, under the instigation and manipulation of several Department of Homeland Security officials, has been conducting secret activities.”
U.S. Attorney: CCP’s [conspiracy] operations cracked
Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said, according to the indictment, “Wang acted as a covert intelligence asset in his own community, spying on and reporting sensitive information on prominent pro-democracy activists and organizations to his co-defendants, who are members of the Chinese government’s Ministry of State Security.
“Today’s indictment exposes and disrupts an operation by the PRC that threatens the safety and freedom of Chinese nationals residing in the United States on account of their pro-democracy beliefs and speech. Our office and our law enforcement partners will remain vigilant to thwart foreign espionage activities aimed at our citizens and residents.”
“We will not tolerate efforts by the PRC or any authoritarian government to export repressive measures to our country,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “These charges demonstrate the Justice Department’s unwavering commitment to hold accountable all those who violate our laws in seeking to suppress dissenting voices within the United States and to prevent our residents from exercising their lawful rights.”
Michael J. Driscoll, assistant director of the FBI’s New York office, said Wang joined the democratic organization with the real intention of spying on its members. According to Driscoll, Wang targeted dissidents living in the United States, putting their lives at risk; and the Chinese government has repeatedly proven that it ignores the U.S. laws and goes after those who openly oppose its regime.
Wang collects information on anti-communists under the direction of China’s Ministry of State Security (‘Guoan’)
The U.S. Department of Justice materials say that at the direction of China’s Ministry of State Security, Wang Shujun used his position and identity in the Chinese community in New York to “collect information on prominent activists, dissidents, and human rights leaders to report to the Chinese government.” Wang pretended to be willing to listen; and then reported what these activists said to him in private, including their views on Chinese democracy and the speeches, manuscripts, demonstrations, etc., prepared by them against the Chinese Communist Party.”
Wang’s whistleblower activities led directly to the arrest of Hong Kong activists. According to the indictment, (at least) one Hong Kong pro-democracy activist was reported by Wang to the Ministry of State Security, referred to in the indictment as “Hong Kong Dissident # 1”. The CCP subsequently arrested the man.
The U.S. Department of Justice materials show that Wang Shujun’s victims included Chinese pro-democracy activists, Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, and “individuals and groups in New York City and elsewhere that the Chinese government considers subversive.”
He, Ji, Li, and Lu, acting as Wang’s contacts, instructed Wang to target specific individuals and groups that the CCP deems subversive, such as Hong Kong democracy activists, Taiwan independence advocates, Uyghur and Tibetan activists, and obtain access to other MSSs that are considered important information.
Wang communicated with Guoan through “diary”
The indictment said Wang provided information to He, Ji, Li, and Lu through the use of encrypted messaging software and email and an opportunity to meet in mainland China. Wang often records the information he collects in an email “diary” that MSS personnel can access. The “diaries” included Wang’s private conversations with prominent political dissidents and details of the activities of pro-democracy activists and human rights groups.
The Justice Department searched Wang’s residence and found some 163 “diaries” written by Wang to He, Ji, Li, Lu, and other Ministry of State Security officials.
For example, in a series of communications around November 22, 2016, “Ji” instructed Wang to communicate with a particular attendee at an upcoming democracy event and complete tasks assigned by “Boss Lu.”
Ji said the attendees they identified had “acquainted with and had contact with Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians,” and Ji wished Wang good luck and “good results.”
In another exchange around November 16, 2016, Wang told Li that he had “just concluded a conversation with a prominent human rights activist,” noting that he had asked “necessary questions” and received “frank” answers. Li responded “very good” and gave Wang a thumbs up, instructing Wang to write it down in his “diary.”
According to NBC News, Chinese spying in the U.S. has become so rampant that the FBI is launching, on average, two counterintelligence investigations a day to counter the onslaught, said FBI Director Christopher Wray.
In an exclusive NBC News interview, Wray said, “There is no country that presents a broader, more severe threat to our innovation, our ideas and our economic security than China does.”