Huawei is again at the center of controversy. The United States charged two Chinese men with espionage and acting as intelligence agents to interfere with internal investigations related to the Chinese-owned and CCP-run telecommunications company.
The U.S. State Department on Monday, October 24, charged two Chinese intelligence agents with attempting to obstruct an investigation for a lawsuit against Huawei. The indictment finds that the two men recruited a double agent from a U.S. government agency to provide confidential information related to the case. In return, they would be paid $61,000 in cryptocurrencies.
U.S. Attorney Merrick Garland also announced that he is investigating 11 Chinese nationals who are responding to Beijing’s intentions to interfere with the U.S. government.
The Justice Department identified two Chinese nationals, Guochun He and Zheng Wang, as Chinese Communist Party intelligence agents.
“This was an egregious attempt by PRC intelligence agents to shield a PRC-based company from accountability and undermine the integrity of our judicial system,” said U.S. Attorney Garland in announcing the case.
The indictment of He and Wang notes that, in 2019, the two Chinese nationals asked an FBI double agent to steal confidential documents involved in the Huawei trial. However, these documents had been forged to protect the information.
In 2018, the Huawei company was indicted for allegedly misleading HSBC and other banks about its business in Iran, which are subject to U.S. government sanctions. In 2020, additional charges were added to the case, including conspiring to steal trade secrets from six U.S. technology companies and helping Iran track protesters during anti-government demonstrations in 2009.
The confidential documents requested by He and Wang would be related to this trial of the telecommunications company. In the summer of 2021, He asked the FBI double agent about details of meetings with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York as prosecutors discussed preparations for the jury trial.
The double agent passed He a document that appeared to be marked confidential, reporting a plan by federal investigators to arrest two executives of the China-based company. In addition, He and Wang also received classified information about the U.S. Justice Department’s alleged legal strategy and the list of potential witnesses to be presented at trial. So far, Huawei has not commented.
More indictments against Chinese nationals
Prosecutor Garland filed two more indictments against Chinese nationals. One charged four individuals from New Jersey with using an academic institution based in Qingdao, China, to recruit U.S. citizens to ” further the intelligence mission of the People’s Republic of China.”
These four Chinese nationals performed these intelligence “tasks” between 2008 and 2018 and were involved in operatives to stop demonstrations against the Chinese Communist regime during the 2008 Olympics.
The third indictment filed by prosecutor Garland targets six Chinese nationals and one American. These seven individuals are accused of attempting to repatriate a Chinese citizen residing in the U.S. The main defendant, Quanzhong An, allegedly acted under orders from a disciplinary body of the Chinese Communist Party.
One of the prosecutors involved in the investigation said that “the cases revealed today take place against a backdrop of malign activity by the People’s Republic of China that includes espionage, harassment, obstruction of our justice system, and relentless efforts to steal sensitive U.S. technology.”
“China seeks to be a major power on the world stage and to challenge the United States in multiple arenas, and today’s cases make it clear that Chinese agents will not hesitate to break the law and violate international norms in the process,” he said.
“China Initiative,” the Trump-era plan to counter CCP influence
The “China Initiative” program was launched in 2018 by the Trump Administration to eradicate economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and advances in U.S. technology. The program’s primary purpose was to confront the infiltration of Chinese academic or research institutions in the United States.
Through the program, the FBI noted in 2021 that China was involved in 60 percent of all trade secret theft cases worldwide. Since the Initiative, several Chinese nationals have been charged with committing fraud, cyberattacks, bank data theft, bank fraud, and other crimes. In July 2021, the FBI charged four Chinese officials from China’s Ministry of State Security with executing a global computer hacking campaign to obtain intellectual property records and to steal confidential infectious disease research data.
In February 2022, the Biden Administration suspended this program due to “a narrative of intolerance and bias” that would threaten ties with academic and scientific institutions, jeopardizing collaboration in these areas with the U.S. government.
Attorney General Garland, who brought the charges against the Chinese nationals previously described in this article, commented in April 2022 at a hearing before the House Budget Committee that the cancellation of the program did not represent a backlash against Chinese Communist Party influence in the U.S., but rather that measures were being stepped up.
“I agree that the Chinese government, the Communist Party, represents a huge threat to our intellectual property [and] to our cyber systems with respect to counterintelligence,” Garland said.
“It’s not correct that we have disbanded our attacks, our response to China. Quite the opposite. We’ve stepped them up. We’re asking for even more money for counterintelligence and cyber defense.”