A Singaporean man pleaded guilty Friday to charges of spying on behalf of the Chinese government amid a crackdown on what officials describe as widespread Chinese espionage.
Jun Wei Yeo worked as an unregistered agent of the Chinese government from 2015 until 2019, Axios reported Friday, citing a statement from prosecutors.
Yeo’s guilty plea comes amid a Justice Department initiative designed to combat intellectual property theft in the U.S. and instances of Chinese espionage.
“At the direction of Chinese intelligence operatives, the defendant targeted U.S. government employees and an Army officer to obtain information for the government of China,” Alan Kohler Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, said in a statement, according to Axios.
“Mr. Yeo admits he set up a fake consulting company to further his scheme, looked for susceptible individuals who were vulnerable to recruitment, and tried to avoid detection by U.S. authorities,” Kohler added.
China uses a variety of techniques to collect sensitive information on Americans, Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a news statement.
“Yeo was central to one such scheme, using career networking sites and a false consulting firm to lure Americans who might be of interest to the Chinese government. This is yet another example of the Chinese government’s exploitation of the openness of American society,” he noted.
Yeo was charged as an “illegal agent of a foreign power” under the same code used to charge Maria Butina in 2018 for spying on behalf of the Russian government, Axios reported.
“This statute is for borderline spies,” Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, told Axios.
“The bottom line here is that the Department of Justice appears to believe Yeo was acting more as a spy than an unregistered lobbyist.”
The Chinese government has a history of using job networking websites as recruiting tools, according to officials.
Beijing uses LinkedIn “on a mass scale” to recruit current and former U.S. officials, William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, told The New York Times in 2019.
“Instead of dispatching spies to the U.S. to recruit a single target, it’s more efficient to sit behind a computer in China and send out friend requests to thousands of targets using fake profiles,” he said.
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