The US Justice Department announced charges against eight individuals it says acted as "illegal agents" of China on Wednesday. Specifically the statement alleged they had been engaged in an organized campaign of intimating Chinese citizens currently on American soil.
Five of these have already been arrested while at least one other is being sought by US law enforcement. The DoJ's National Security division Assistant Attorney General John Demers announced at a press briefing:
"[I am here] to announce charges against eight individuals for acting as agents of the People’s Republic of China while taking part in an illegal Chinese law enforcement operation known as Fox Hunt here in the United States."
In the DOJ press conference FBI Director Christopher Wray called it "outrageous" that Beijing would think it can get away with conducting illegal operations on US soil. He said it was aimed to "bend people here in the United States to their will."
Here's how Wray described the operation Wednesday:
In this case, once victims reported China’s harassment to the FBI, we began a multi-year investigation in order to bring the perpetrators to justice and vindicate the rule of law. And the FBI is proud to have this investigation culminate in criminal charges—the first of their kind. Charges that will help China understand that surveilling, stalking, harassing, and blackmailing our citizens and lawful permanent residents carries serious risks.
That message is particularly important, because the sad fact is that this was hardly an isolated incident—and China’s tactics have been appalling. As AAG Demers described, Fox Hunt is a sweeping bid by General Secretary Xi and the Chinese Communist Party to target Chinese nationals here in the United States and across the world who are viewed as threats to the regime.
Considering the FBI Director singled out Xi in particular, this will surely be met with a fierce reaction out of Beijing. It's also being described as part of 'Operation SkyNet' - first reported years ago as China's attempt to nab its nationals suspected of corruption who had fled abroad.
But DOJ officials said this was a smokescreen for an operation which in reality cracks down own political dissidents and rival critics of Xi and the ruling communist party.
JUST IN: DOJ and FBI officials have charged 8 Chinese agents for taking part in an illegal espionage program known as Operation Fox Hunt to crack down on dissenters pic.twitter.com/hr4Yac0x4l— Bloomberg QuickTake (@QuickTake) October 28, 2020
ABC reports one particular example of the Chinese stalking of those legally in America as follows:
Among the targets was a resident of New Jersey identified in court records as John Doe-1, whose elderly father was brought to the U.S. from China against his will "to use the surprise arrival... to threaten and attempt to coerce John Doe-1's return to the PRC," prosecutors said.
As part of the campaign to exert pressure on John Doe-1 his adult daughter was put under surveillance and targeted for online harassment, according to court records. Later, unsolicited packages were sent to his residence with letters and videos threatening harm to family members if he did not return.
It was apparently a multi-year campaign to surveil and harass Chinese citizens on US soil under the rationale that they were suspected of crimes in China. "Hongru Jin, Zhu Yong and Michael McMahon were arrested in the Northeast. Rong Jing and Zheng Congving were arrested in California. Zhu Feng remains at large," ABC reports further.