China And Iran’s Bold Repression Reaches US Soil

The FBI warned this week that China and Iran are becoming increasingly audacious in their attempts to silence dissidents and influence American policy. With transnational repression tactics escalating, the FBI is urging victims to step forward, seeking to raise awareness of the threats and the measures these countries are taking.

FBI counterintelligence officials have seen an inflection point in the tools and tactics used, with foreign authoritarian regimes breaching U.S. laws to intimidate specific communities. China and Iran have reportedly used private investigators to surveil dissidents, with several criminal cases brought by federal prosecutors involving their use. These transnational repression schemes also seek to influence U.S. policy decisions through malign tactics.

Two days before this FBI announcement, federal agents arrested two New York residents for allegedly operating a Chinese “secret police station” in Manhattan’s Chinatown district. In addition, safeguard Defenders, a Europe-based human rights organization has published reports revealing dozens of Chinese police “service stations” in major cities worldwide, including New York and Los Angeles.

Furthermore, Safeguard Defenders claims that there are several more unlawful organizations like the Manhattan “police station” scattered across the U.S. Operated by the Chinese Communist Party, these law enforcement organizations are tasked with spying on Chinese nationals worldwide. In addition to Los Angeles and New York, the nonprofit has found “overseas service stations” in San Francisco, Houston, Nebraska, and Minnesota.

These police stations, often hidden behind nonprofits and community associations, are controlled by the United Front Work Department (UFWD), a Chinese government agency responsible for overseeing overseas ethnic and religious affairs. In Manhattan’s Chinatown, the police station was run by the America ChangLe Association NY Inc., a nonprofit that purchased the suite of offices housing the Fuzhou Police Overseas Chinese Affairs bureau for $1.3 million in 2016.

The arrestees, “Harry” Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping, allegedly established the East Broadway station, known as the Fuzhou branch of China’s Ministry of Public Security. They reportedly shut down the station last year after becoming aware of a federal investigation. According to the Department of Justice, Lu helped track down dissidents living in the city and was asked to participate in demonstrations against Falun Gong, a religious movement targeted by the Chinese Communist Party.

As U.S. Attorney Breon Peace stated, “This prosecution reveals the Chinese government’s flagrant violation of our nation’s sovereignty by establishing a secret police station in the middle of New York City.” Lu and Chen are also accused of attempting to obstruct the DOJ’s investigation by deleting their communications with an official of China’s Ministry of Public Security.

With 44 other defendants charged for crimes related to illegally acting on behalf of China in the U.S., it is clear that the threat is real and urgent. As the FBI continues to investigate these bold transnational repressive acts by China and Iran, it is essential that awareness is raised and action is taken to protect American citizens and maintain the nation’s sovereignty.