Oct 28, 2020
DOJ Press Conference Transcript October 28: 8 Charged in Chinese Surveillance Effort
FBI Director Christopher Wray and DOJ Assistant AG John Demers held a press conference on October 28 to address a national security matter. They announced that eight people have been charged in an alleged Chinese surveillance operation. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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John Demers: (01:46)
Good morning today. I’m joined by FBI director, Chris Wray, and remotely by the acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Seth DuCharme, to announce charges against eight individuals for acting as agents of the People’s Republic of China while taking part in an illegal Chinese law enforcement operation known as Fox Hunt. Five of these individuals were arrested across the country this morning. The rest we believe are in China. Since 2014, at the direction of Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping, China has been engaged in a global operation known as Fox Hunt. China describes Fox Hunt as an international anti-corruption campaign in which it seeks to locate legitimate fugitives around the world to bring them back for trial in China.
John Demers: (02:40)
But this is certainly not the whole story, and oftentimes, it simply isn’t true. Some of these individuals may well be wanted on traditional criminal charges and some of them may even be guilty. But in many instances, the hunted are opponents of communist party, Chairman Xi, political rivals, dissidents, critics, and in either event, the operation is a clear violation of the rule of law and international norms. Rather than work with US authorities for assistance with recognized criminal cases as responsible nations do, China resorts to extra legal means and unauthorized, often covert, law enforcement operations. Without coordination with our government, China’s repatriation squads enter the sovereign territory of the United States, surveil and locate the alleged fugitives and deploy intimidation and other tactics to force them back into China, where they would face certain imprisonment or worse following illegitimate trials.
John Demers: (03:44)
There are many established ways that rule of law abiding nations conduct international law enforcement activity. This simply isn’t one of them. Operation Fox Hunt is just one of many ways in which China disregards the rule of law. China’s also known for engaging in, among other things, extra judicial pretrial custody, reeducation camps under the guise of counter-terrorism activity, refusal to fulfill its obligations under mutual legal assistance agreements, providing safe haven to criminal enterprises including massive global hacking campaigns and detention of foreign citizens for purposes of retaliation or political pressure on those citizens’ governments, quite simply put, hostage taking.
John Demers: (04:32)
With today’s charges, we have turned the PRC’s Operation Fox Hunt on its head. The hunters became the hunted, the pursuers the pursued. The five defendants The FBI arrested this morning on these charges of illegally doing the bidding of the Chinese government now face the prospect of prison. For those charged in China and others engaged in this type of conduct, our message is clear. Stay out. Your behavior is not welcome here. The charges announced today are an unambiguous statement that the United States will not tolerate this type of [flagrant 00:05:08] conduct on our shores. The department will continue to champion the rule of law and work with our foreign partners to ensure it is respected throughout the world.
John Demers: (05:19)
The conduct giving rise to this case investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the National Security Division and EDNY was shocking, but standard operating procedure for Operation Fox Hunt. US Attorney DuCharme will provide more details of the alleged crimes, but at its core, this was a large scale and wide ranging conspiracy in which several representatives from the Chinese government traveled with the elderly father of the New Jersey based victim in an effort to threaten him to return to China. The same scheme also included leaving menacing notes on the victim’s door, imprisoning the victim sister in China and harassing the victim’s daughter online. The case is charged in part as a conspiracy to act in the United States as illegal agents of a foreign government. The department is committed to the aggressive use of this statute, an important tool in our fight against the illegal foreign activity here, as well as other national security and criminal tools to combat China’s Operation Fox Hunt and any other unauthorized illegal activity within the United States.
John Demers: (06:27)
Before I will turn this over to the FBI director, I’d like to thank all the prosecutors from the Eastern District and those here at the National Security Division, as well as the FBI agents from around the country that investigated this case and conducted this morning’s arrests. No law enforcement organization around the world does more to confront Chinese malign activity than the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Director Wray.
Christopher Wray: (06:59)
Good morning. Today’s charges reflect yet another example of China’s ongoing and widespread lawless behavior and our refusal to tolerate it. Simply put, it’s outrageous that China thinks it can come to our shores, conduct illegal operations and bend people here in the United States to their will. In this case, once victims reported China’s harassment to the FBI, we began a multi-year investigation in order to bring the perpetrators to justice and vindicate the rule of law, and the FBI is proud to have this investigation culminate in criminal charges, the first of their kind, charges that will help China understand that surveilling, stalking, harassing, and blackmailing our citizens and lawful permanent residents carry serious risks. That message is particularly important because the sad fact is that this was hardly an isolated incident, and China’s tactics have been appalling.
Christopher Wray: (08:02)
As Assistant Attorney General Demers described, Fox hunt is a sweeping bid by General Secretary Xi and the Chinese Communist Party to target Chinese nationals here in the United States and across the world who are viewed as threats to the regime. In another case like this one, when it couldn’t locate a Fox Hunt target, Chinese government sent an emissary to visit the victim’s family here in the United States, and the message they said to pass on, the target had two options, return to China promptly or commit suicide. What happens when the Fox hunt targets do reviews to return to China? Their family members, both here in the United States and in China have been threatened and coerced, and those back in China have even been arrested for leverage. These are not the actions we would expect for my responsible nation state. Instead, they’re more like something we would expect from an organized criminal syndicate.
Christopher Wray: (09:07)
It’s important to understand that Fox Hunt is part of the Chinese government’s diverse campaign of theft and malign influence. China is violating laws and norms left and right, from sophisticated cyber attacks targeting our data and personal information, to economic espionage, targeting our intellectual property and our trade secrets, and they’re using that information to gain influence on the world stage, to gain economic and political power, all to their benefit and all very much to our detriment. So we’ve got to continue doing everything we can to put a stop to it. I want to thank the folks in our Los Angeles, Newark, New York and New Haven FBI field offices, and I also want to thank all of our partners who helped with this operation.
Christopher Wray: (09:56)
At the FBI, we know we can’t do it on our own. We need a whole of society response because China is determined to leapfrog the United States and become the dominant global superpower by any means necessary. Now, before I wrap up, I also want to remind you of something I’ve said time and again. Our concern isn’t with the Chinese people or with Chinese Americans. Our concern is with criminal acts committed at the behest of the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party. The FBI and our partners throughout the US government will hold China accountable and protect our nation’s innovation, ideas and way of life with the help and vigilance of the American people.
Christopher Wray: (10:39)
I’d like to close by saying that if you believe the Chinese government is targeting you, that you’re a potential Fox Hunt victim, please reach out to your local FBI field office. With that, I’ll turn it over to the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Seth DuCharme to discuss the specific defendants and charges in this case. Thank you.
Seth DuCharme: (11:02)
Thanks very much, Director Wray. It’s my pleasure to be able to participate in today’s announcement with you and AAG Demers. To my knowledge, this is the first case of its kind and I think it is significant for a number of reasons. What makes the case really stand out is that it directly involves the efforts of a foreign power to conduct unilateral activity here on US soil in violation of our laws. More specifically, the charges announced today include conspiring to violate 18 USC 851, which relates to the illegal activity by foreign agents operating in the US without notice or permission to the attorney general, and conspiring to violate Title 18 United States Code Section 2261, which to interstate stalking.
Seth DuCharme: (11:55)
I think it’s important at the outset to remind everyone as always that the charges in the complaint that we filed today are allegations. They’re simply that, and that the burden, of course, is on us to prove those allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defendants are, of course, innocent until proven guilty. We’re going to litigate this case in a courtroom. But with respect to that burden, it is a burden we here embrace to prove those facts. Today’s arrest of five defendants here in the United States arose from a long-term investigation that we’ve worked collectively with the FBI, our partners in NSD and a number of other agencies, and we’ve worked with offices across the country because unfortunately, the conduct span multiple states.
Seth DuCharme: (12:48)
With respect to foreign government officials, they frankly have no business operating unilaterally in our country, particularly where their tactics involve intimidation and show no respect for our principles of comity and our procedures. As AAG Demers has explained, today’s charges arise out of the People’s Republic of China’s efforts to use unlawful and frankly very disturbing tactics try to repatriate residents of the United States to China as part of a campaign that they call Fox Hunt. The criminal conduct set forth in the complaint that we filed today involves this conspiracy. It involves people in the United States and people overseas, who were working at the behest of government officials in the People’s Republic of China, and they were engaged in an international and interstate campaign to threaten, harass and surveil our victim, who we’ve referred to as John Doe-1, and we’re going to try to do our best to protect the anonymity of that victim. John Doe-1 is a US resident.
Seth DuCharme: (13:53)
As a result of this conduct, which occurred over a period of years, unfortunately, and involved operational activities from coast to coast and around the tri-state area. We charged eight defendants, five of them were arrested this morning. As alleged in the complaint, which there’s much more detail on the complaint. I’m just going to do my best to summarize that a little bit. Complaint on file is over 40 pages and rich with facts, but essentially what it says is that over a three-year period, members of the PRC government directed several individuals to engage in unsanctioned and illegal conduct in the United States on behalf of the people’s Republic of China for the purpose of coercing a person, John Doe-1, to return to the People’s Republic of China, and we believe they did so because John Doe-1 and another victim, his spouse, are alleged by the Chinese government to have committed some violations of Chinese law.
Seth DuCharme: (14:58)
But rather than go through the appropriate channels with the US government to pursue those charges, PRC officials and these defendants in this case engaged in extra judicial conduct that really violates not only US law, but the types of norms and principles of comity that we would expect from a foreign government. The charged conspiracy involved efforts to pressure John Doe-1 directly, and also by taking actions that affected his family members, including his wife, his adult daughter, and other family members who resided in the United States and some who resided overseas in China. The effort was sustained, relentless over years. It involved some discreet acts to frighten, intimidate and coerce John Doe, and it involves some shockingly overt attitude.
Seth DuCharme: (15:49)
It involves surveillance, including we believe with use of night vision goggles, involved leaving threatening notes on the victims doors, and I think perhaps most distressingly, targeting the victim’s daughter. The efforts also involved seeking the assistance of a US-based private investigator to bend him to the will of this unlawful mission. To get into just a few of the specifics, one of the notes read, for example, “If you are willing to go back to the mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be safe and all right. That’s the end of the matter.” This is conduct we would not tolerate from our own citizens, certainly not from our own officials. It constitutes stalking and it is certainly not conduct that we will tolerate when conducted unilaterally by a foreign government with no notice and without the permission of the United States government.
Seth DuCharme: (16:52)
That is in sum and substance what this case is about. That’s what led us to take what I believe to be unprecedented action to enforce the rule of law and it’s unacceptable and it will not be permitted to continue. It’s important I think also to note that our investigation continues and also to remind people, once again, that these defendants, like all defendants, are entitled to their day in court, the day they look forward to. The burden to prove their guilt is on us and we embrace that burden. I just want to echo the sentiment of Director Wray, where a case like this really does take a whole of government approach.
Seth DuCharme: (17:36)
We’ve had great partnership with the FBI, the National Security Division. We’ve got critical assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State and our colleagues in the US Attorney community across the country who really stood shoulder to shoulder with us to enforce the rule of law in this case, as in all other cases. So thank you for the opportunity this morning. It’s my understanding that some questions now from the media will be directed to us. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (18:09)
We will now begin the question and answer session. To ask a question, you may press star then one on your touch tone phone. If you are using a speakerphone, please pick up your handset before pressing the keys. To withdraw your question, please press star then two. Please specify who your questions should go to when your line is open and limit yourself to one question. You may return to the question queue with additional questions. At this time, we’ll pause momentarily to assemble the roster. The first question comes from Aruna Viswanatha, please go ahead, from The Wall Street Journal.
Aruna Viswanatha: (18:46)
Hi, thanks for doing this. So, as you mentioned, I think John Demers mentioned, this has been going on since 2014, and this is the first time you have brought some cases here. Have you seen an escalation in this trend of harassment efforts over the past year or two? Or what kind of change have you seen? Are they being more aggressive about targeting these people? Our understanding is there are at least two dozen sort of publicly identified targets in the US.
Christopher Wray: (19:21)
So I don’t know that I could give you a quantitative assessment of the trend, but I think it’s fair to say that this is, as I said in my opening remarks, far from an isolated incident, that it’s become all too common, not just here in the United States, but in a number of other countries around the world who also respect the rule of law, and some of the conduct that we’ve seen here is really beyond the pale and needs to be stopped in the most from firm manner possible. Thank you. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (19:58)
The next question comes from Pete Williams of NBC News. Please go ahead.
Pete Williams: (20:02)
Thank you. Mr. Wray, where were these folks arrested and were they ever successful in getting people to go back to China?
Christopher Wray: (20:12)
Well, I’ll let Seth speak to the last part. But we had people working both in our New Haven, New York, Newark and Los Angeles field offices on the operation that took place this morning. Seth.
Seth DuCharme: (20:28)
Sure. If I can just add to that. I think that one of our five defendants was arrested in New Jersey. Two were arrested in New York this morning, and two others were arrested in California. Fortunately, in this case, as the facts we’ve alleged set forth, we were able to essentially protect the victim from intimidation, and I can’t really go beyond the scope of what’s in the public record with respect to other instances in which the Chinese agents may or may not have been successful in their efforts. But fortunately, in this case, we’ve been able to protect the victims.
Speaker 2: (21:12)
The next question comes from Nick Schifrin from PBS. Please go ahead.
Nick Schifrin: (21:17)
Thanks for doing this. Can you discuss who the five who you’ve arrested are who you believe they were working for and how they entered the United States, whether they lied on visa applications? You’ve mentioned Xi Jinping multiple times. I can imagine that you have connections to these people to PRC officials, but do you have personal evidence or evidence that Xi Jinping personally was involved with this? Thanks.
Christopher Wray: (21:59)
Seth, you want to that one?
Seth DuCharme: (21:59)
So this is Seth. I’m not sure who the question was directed to, but I can talk about the defendants a little bit. So with respect to the five defendants who were arrested today, just briefly, Hongru Jin was a 30 year old naturalized US citizen. He resided in Queens, New York. Jin participated in the scheme to stalk our victim, John Doe-1, in or about April of 2017 by assisting with the travel and and logistics planning for Zhu Feng and some PRC officials, as well as assisting with the surveillance on John Doe-1 and his father. With respect to Zhu Yong, I can tell you that Yong, who’s also known as Jason [Ju 00:22:54], he’s a 64 year old PRC citizen and a legal permanent resident of the United States. He resides in Flushing, New York. He was involved in hiring the private investigator, Michael McMahon to help investigate and surveil and ultimately stalk John Doe-1 on behalf of the PRC government.
Seth DuCharme: (23:16)
Michael McMahon is a 53 year old US citizen. He’s a licensed private detective in New Jersey, and he was essentially recruited and hired to assist with surveillance and conducting other aspects of the operation. Rong Jing is a 38 year old US legal permanent resident and PRC citizen. He resides in California. His role essentially was seeking location information for people in the United States on behalf of the PRC government. Then with respect to the fifth defendant who is arrested today, Zheng Congying, he’s a 24 year old PRC citizen and a legal permanent resident. Zheng reside in Brooklyn during the relevant time period, at least, and now he resides out in California where he was arrested earlier this morning. So hopefully that’s some helpful background on the defendants and responsive to your question. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (24:25)
The next question comes from Eric Tucker from The Associated Press. Please go ahead.
Eric Tucker: (24:30)
Hi. Thank you so much for doing this. I was wondering, and this question may again be for Seth or for John, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what the value to the PRC was, or the individuals were being targeted, what was it about them and their backgrounds that led to this very aggressive and illegal pursuit? Were they themselves sort of active dissidents of the PRC or was there something else that made them so significant to the government? Thank you.
John Demers: (24:59)
Thanks very much, Eric. I think, we don’t want to go further into why these specific individuals were targeted. We’re very keen to protect their identities, and obviously any information that we give along those lines could be used to reconstruct who these folks were. So I think we’ll leave it as what was in the indictment with, of course, the overlay, I think as your question recognizes that while some individuals are legitimately sought for criminal activity, although in an illegitimate way, others, in fact, are dissidents, critics, rivals of the Chinese General Secretary. Thanks.
Speaker 2: (25:44)
This now concludes the press conference. You may now disconnect.