As China and Iran hunt for dissidents in the US, the FBI is racing to counter the threat

The Associated Press

Members of an Eastern European organized crime gang scouted her Brooklyn home and plotted to kill her in a murder-for-hire scheme directed from Iran, according to the Justice Department, which foiled the plan and brought criminal charges.
The issue has grabbed the attention of the Justice Department, which in the past five years has charged dozens of suspects with acts of transnational repression.
The Justice Department, for instance, announced a disrupted plot last November to kill a Sikh activist in New York that officials said was directed by an Indian government official.
And emerging technologies like generative AI are likely to be exploited for future harassment, U.S. intelligence officials said in a recent threat assessment.
Yet U.S. officials say China created a program to do exactly that, launching “Operation Fox Hunt” to track down Chinese expatriates wanted by Beijing, with a goal of bullying them into returning to face charges.
That’s the end of this matter!” according to a 2020 Justice Department case charging a group of Chinese operatives and an American private investigator.
Alinejad, the Iranian journalist, was targeted even before the murder-for-hire plot was announced by the Justice Department last year.
The FBI disrupted the plot but also encouraged Alinejad to move, which she has done.


WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 (AP) — Following the entry of a student leader of the historic Tiananmen sq\. protests in a 2022 New York congressional race, prosecutors claim that a Chinese intelligence agent did not waste any time in hiring a private investigator to look for any mistresses or tax issues that might unseat the candidate.

“Actually, violence would be okay too,” the operative menacingly informed his contact. “.

Tehran was paying attention as an Iranian journalist and activist living in exile in the US voiced concerns about Iran’s violations of human rights. According to the Justice Department, which thwarted the plan and filed criminal charges, members of an Eastern European organized crime gang scouted her Brooklyn home and planned to kill her in a murder-for-hire scheme directed from Iran.

These episodes highlight the drastic measures taken by nations such as China and Iran to threaten, harass, and occasionally plan attacks against American political opponents and activists. s. They demonstrate the terrifying effects that geopolitical tensions can have on common people, as governments that have traditionally been intolerant of dissent within their own borders are becoming more and more likely to keep a close eye on people who voice their opinions thousands of miles away.

In a conversation, Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad stated, “We’re not living in fear, we’re not living in paranoia, but the reality is very clear — that the Islamic Republic wants us dead, and we have to look over our shoulder every day.”.

The Justice Department, which has accused numerous suspects of transnational repression over the last five years, has become interested in the matter. In order to project power abroad and quell dissent, countries are more willing to cross “serious red lines” from harassment into violence, according to senior FBI officials who spoke with The Associated Press. These tactics include hiring proxies like private investigators and leaders of organized crime.

Well-funded intimidation tactics are becoming a top priority for foreign adversaries’ intelligence services, and more nations—including some that aren’t typically thought of as being hostile to the U.S. s. The officials, who discussed their investigations under the condition of anonymity, claimed to have targeted critics in the West, including America.

For example, the Justice Department revealed last November that an Indian government official was behind a foiled plot to assassinate a Sikh activist in New York. Paul Rusesabagina, the well-known star of “Hotel Rwanda,” was detained in Rwanda, brought back, and later released to the U.S. S. last year, and the FBI claims that Saudi Arabia has persecuted critics both in person and online.

The top national security official at the Justice Department, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, stated that addressing an “alarming rise” in harassment targeted at the government is a top priority.

“Unacceptable from the perspective of United States sovereignty and defending American values — values around free expression and free association,” he said, adding that the prosecutions also aim to make harassers pay for their actions. “.

There’s been an increase in cases in other countries too.

Reporters Without Borders described London as a “hotspot” for Iranian attacks on Persian-language broadcasters in April. British counterterrorism police are looking into an attack that occurred one month prior on an Iranian television presenter outside of his London home. Russia’s intelligence agents have long been held accountable for harassment and attacks against Russians in Britain and other parts of Europe, including the poisoning of a journalist in Germany. Moscow has refuted these claims.

within the U. S. the relationship with Iran is steadily deteriorating, and tensions with China over trade, intellectual property theft, and election meddling make the trend even more concerning. Furthermore, it is likely that new technologies like generative AI will be used to harass people in the future. s. According to a recent threat assessment, intelligence officials said.

“The wider struggle between authoritarian regimes and democratic nations is reflected in transnational repression,” Olsen stated. Over the past ten years, there has been a recurring theme of how the geopolitical landscape is shifting. “.

“I don’t really feel safe,”.

Advocates and officials list China and Iran as two of the main offenders.

The Iranian mission at the United Nations did not respond to emails. The Chinese Embassy in Washington issued a statement in which it refuted the claim that the nation participates in the practice, stating that it “strictly abides by international law, and fully respects the law enforcement sovereignty of other countries.”. “.

The statement declared, “We resolutely oppose ‘long-arm jurisdiction’.”.

Still, U. S. According to officials, China launched “Operation Fox Hunt” to find Chinese expatriates that Beijing wanted to bring back to face charges. The program’s goal is to intimidate the individuals into returning.

A note written in Chinese characters was discovered taped to the front door of a former Chinese city government official residing in New Jersey. The note read, “Your wife and children will be all right if you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison.”. “That concludes this matter!” reads a 2020 Justice Department lawsuit against an American private investigator and a group of Chinese agents.

The private investigator and two Chinese citizens who lived in the U.S. last year were found guilty in this specific case, despite the fact that most defendants in transnational repression plots are based in their home country and thus rarely face arrests or prosecutions. s.

Chinese American Christian pastor Bob Fu, whose group ChinaAid promotes religious liberty in China, claimed he has been the target of extensive harassment campaigns for many years. For days on end, large groups of protestors have gathered in front of his house in west Texas, demonstrating their support for China through their well-coordinated actions.

In addition to fictitious bomb threats to police claiming he intended to detonate explosives, phony hotel reservations have been made in his name. Neighbors have been given flyers that portray him as the devil. In addition to moving from his house at the advice of law enforcement, he said he has learned to travel with caution and has asked his staff not to disclose his itinerary in advance.

Fu told AP, “I don’t really feel safe.”. Regarding his potential return to China, his birthplace and place of exile, he stated: “I might be able to go back, but it’s only going to be a one-way trip.”. You’ve got me on their wanted list, for sure. “.

In 2020, a group of demonstrators targeted Wu Jianmin, a former student leader in China’s pro-democracy movement from 1989, outside his Irvine, California, home. Over two months passed during the harassment.

“They verbally attacked me and yelled slogans outside my house,” he claimed. They set up a neighborhood parade, handed out fliers and pictures in every possible format, and placed them in mailboxes. “.

Wu thinks retired members of the Communist Party who reside in the United States are among the people who carry out harassment plots. S. their kids, people who belong to Chinese associations that have strong ties to the Chinese government, and even runaways looking to make deals with Beijing.

Wu said in a Mandarin Chinese interview that “the end goal is the same.”. Suppressing foreign pro-democracy activists is their mandate, as given by the Communist Party. “.

The Justice Department accused roughly thirty Chinese national police officers last year of using social media to harass dissidents within the U.S. s. arresting two men it claims had assisted in setting up a covert police outpost in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood on behalf of the Chinese government, among other things, by making up fake accounts and sharing offensive videos and comments.

A wide range of schemes to intimidate dissidents were revealed by federal prosecutors in New York the previous year, including the one to gather information about the obscure and ultimately unsuccessful congressional candidate.

Prosecutors claim that an individual posing as an Olympic committee member surveilled Alysa Liu, an American figure skater, and her father Arthur, a political refugee, asking for their passport details.

Dissident artist in California Xi Jinping’s sculpture, which portrayed the coronavirus with the face of Chinese President Xi Jinping, was also destroyed by fire.

“There is no reason to believe that these individuals are rogue actors or not connected to the Chinese government,” Rep. The top Democrat on a House select committee that is investigating China, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, stated regarding the charged Chinese operatives.


On occasion, plans for violence have been made in reaction to global events.

The most powerful general in Iran was killed in an airstrike, and in 2022, prosecutors charged an Iranian agent with attempting to “eliminate” National Security Advisor John Bolton for the Trump administration for $300,000.

This year, a new threat against Tehran surfaced when the Justice Department charged two Canadians, one of whom was a “full-patch” member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, and an Iranian who they identified as a drug trafficker and intelligence operative in connection with a plot to kill two Iranians who had left the country and were living in Maryland.

Before the threat was neutralized, one of the hired Canadians is alleged to have said, “We gotta erase his head from his torso.”.

The Iranian journalist Alinejad was targeted even prior to the Justice Department’s announcement of the murder-for-hire scheme last year. In 2021, prosecutors accused a group of Iranians purportedly operating under the direction of the nation’s intelligence services of plotting her kidnapping.

Alinejad, who is still a well-known journalist and outspoken opposition activist, declared last year that she would not back down from her advocacy, even during a sentencing hearing for a woman who the prosecution claims unintentionally provided funding for the kidnapping scheme.

She can’t shake the terrifying memories of the plot details, though. The criminal cases exposed not only the extent of the threat she faced but also the gruesome preparations that went into it. These included talking about ways to lure Alinejad out of her house, like asking for flowers from the garden outside, and researching ways to get her out of New York on a speedboat akin to a military vessel.

Following his discovery driving Alinejad’s Brooklyn neighborhood while carrying a loaded rifle and rounds of ammunition, one of the defendants in the murder-for-hire scheme was taken into custody in 2022. February saw the extradition of another suspect from the Czech Republic to stand trial. Along with them, two more people were detained.

While upsetting the plot, the FBI also urged Alinejad to relocate, which she has done. She had enjoyed giving neighbors homegrown cucumbers and other veggies from her garden, but that also meant bidding adieu to her cherished garden.

“My relationship with my garden and my neighbors was destroyed, even though they didn’t kill me physically,” Alinejad continued.

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