The defendants were accused of using fake social media accounts to harass and intimidate Chinese dissidents residing abroad and sought to suppress the dissidents’ free speech on the platform of a US telecommunications company.
They allegedly created and used thousands of fake online personas to target Chinese dissidents, harass them online, and disseminate propaganda in favor of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The charges were made by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and were unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn.
The defendants were charged with conspiring to transmit interstate threats and commit interstate harassment.
They are believed to reside in the PRC, or elsewhere in Asia, and remain at large. The officers worked with the MPS bureau and were assigned to an elite task force called the “912 Special Project Working Group (the Group)”, whose purpose is to target Chinese dissidents throughout the world, including in the United States.
The Group is a troll farm that attacks persons in the country for exercising free speech in a manner that the CCP government finds disagreeable, and also spreads propaganda aimed at sowing divisions within the United States.
The Group created thousands of fake online personas on social media sites, including Twitter, to target Chinese dissidents through online harassment and threats.
These online personas also disseminated official CCP government propaganda and narratives to counter the pro-democracy speech of the Chinese dissidents. The Group tracks the performances of members in fulfilling their online responsibilities and rewards Group members who successfully operate multiple online personas without detection by the social media companies who host the platforms or by other users of the platforms.
The investigation also uncovered official MPS taskings to Group members to compose articles and videos based on certain themes, targeting, for example, the activities of Chinese dissidents located abroad and the policies of the US government.
The defendants also attempted to recruit US persons to act as unwitting agents of the PRC government by disseminating propaganda or narratives of the PRC government. They used online personas to contact individuals assessed to be sympathetic and supportive of the PRC government’s narratives and asked these individuals to disseminate Group content.
The defendants also took repeated affirmative actions to have Chinese dissidents and their meetings removed from the platform of a telecommunications company.
Group members disrupted a dissident’s efforts to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre through a videoconference by posting threats against the participants through the platform’s chat function in another videoconference on the topic of countering communism organized by a PRC dissident.
Group members flooded the videoconference and drowned out the meeting with loud music and vulgar screams and threats directed at the pro-democracy participants.
“These cases demonstrate the lengths the PRC government will go to silence and harass US persons who exercise their fundamental rights to speak out against PRC oppression, including by unlawfully exploiting a US-based technology company,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
“China’s Ministry of Public Security used operatives to target people of Chinese descent who had the courage to speak out against the Chinese Communist Party – in one case by covertly spreading propaganda to undermine confidence in our democratic processes and in another, by suppressing US video conferencing users’ free speech,” said Acting Assistant Director Kurt Ronnow of the FBI Counterintelligence Division.