Apr 18, 2023

First Arrests Linked to Chinese Secret Police Outpost in New York City Transcript

First Arrests Linked to Chinese Secret Police Outpost in New York City Transcript
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Officers were found to be using surveillance, threats, and intimidation to silence Chinese dissidents living in the US. Read the transcript here.

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Breon Peace (00:00):

Two miles from our office, just across the Brooklyn Bridge, this nondescript office building in the heart of bustling Chinatown in Lower Manhattan has a dark secret. Until several months ago, an entire floor of this building hosted an undeclared police station of the Chinese national police.

Sasha Ingber (00:23):

Our Scripps News investigation this past January brought us to the heart of New York City’s Chinatown to explore that dark secret, which had by then already captured the attention of the US government. It’s a secret that first came to light this past fall when the European human rights organization, Safeguard Defenders, revealed the locations of more than 100 suspected police service stations around the world, including in New York. The group says Chinese law enforcement quietly set up these outposts to track, harass and repatriate Chinese citizens. In the US, the FBI had set its sights on Manhattan’s Chinatown, a single building that’s home to a Chinese outfit called the American Changle Association. It promotes itself as a place that helps Chinese nationals in New York. But attorney, Mike Gao, said something more nefarious was at play.

Mike Gao (01:20):

Changle Association number one job is getting personal information. And then they gave to Chinese government.

Sasha Ingber (01:27):

Gao once worked in China’s Public Security Ministry conducting criminal investigations. But after participating in protests against the Chinese government in Tiananmen Square in 1989, he fled to the US. Now he represents Chinese citizens in New York who say they’ve been persecuted by their government. And that the Changle Association has become, in effect, a long arm of China.

Mike Gao (01:55):

They even say, “We have camera everywhere. We take a video everywhere. And we can send this stuff back to China.”

Sasha Ingber (02:04):

It’s not only Changle. Gao says China, half a world away, has run operations that have targeted his clients because of their wealth or history of dissent. Are they going after men and women, young and old?

Mike Gao (02:17):

They don’t care whether or not you are man or a woman, young man or older man. They don’t care.

Sasha Ingber (02:24):

This client, [inaudible 00:02:25], knows what it’s like to be threatened on US soil. He showed us a photo that he says police in China texted him two years ago after he refused to return.

Speaker 4 (02:35):

[foreign language 00:02:36].

Sasha Ingber (02:38):

“It’s a picture of my daughter, caged,” he says. He was so frightened of what authorities might do next, he stopped communicating with his family in China.

Jon Darby (02:48):

China has the strategic intent to influence worldwide.

Sasha Ingber (02:52):

None of these tactics surprise Jon Darby, the National Security Agency’s former Director of Operations. How good is China at tracking some of their own down?

Jon Darby (03:03):

I think it’s fair to say China would be very good at tracking down individuals they’re interested in. The Chinese population dwarfs the United States. And their intelligence, the size of their intelligence services, dwarf that of the United States. So just in terms of pure volume of activity, it’s more than others.

Sasha Ingber (03:25):

Now, US officials say that this New York outpost is part of an effort to globalize oppressive tactics used in China to silence dissent, and that these two defendants also admitted to deleting communications with China’s Ministry of Public Security when they found out that the FBI was investigating. FBI agents are saying that the investigation has not stopped. They are continuing to explore the full extent of activities by associates of this police station. And they’re urging anybody who has been targeted or approached to come forward.

Speaker 6 (04:04):

Sasha, they were pretty bold. It was unofficial, but it’s not like it was undetectable. They were active, right? What’s the reaction been?

Sasha Ingber (04:12):

Well, I spoke with some lawmakers today. And Congressman Mike Gallagher, who is the Chair of the Select Committee on China, he said that this is a small but important victory. Now, back in February, he had sent a letter to the FBI saying that he was concerned that there were more outposts and that the FBI was, quote, unquote, “late to the game”. Senator Marco Rubio, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said that today’s arrests are only the tip of the iceberg. Senator Mark Warner, who leads that Intelligence Committee, he told me by email that the People’s Republic of China has become increasingly emboldened and that these repression tactics clearly don’t stop at China’s border.

But I want to read you what Laura Harth, the Campaign Director for Safeguard Defenders, texted me today. Now remember, this is the organization that uncovered these addresses in public view on Chinese government sites and state affiliated media. She writes to me that, “Seeing actual charges brought forward makes it all the more real. And we hope this is a clear signal that will not be ignored by some other allied Democratic nations that for some reason continue to prefer ignoring the issue of PRC transnational repression.” She tells me that some of these countries include France, Spain, and Italy. And she adds that, “The PRC statements indicate they fully plan on expanding their clandestine interference operations around the world.”

Speaker 6 (05:47):

Gosh. And it’s not just in New York. It’s not just online. They do this on college campuses too. These pressure campaigns. And we’re getting this message, “Stop this activity on American soil.” But really, we’ve talked about this in the past, if an incident does peak, what’s the actual impact on family back in China?

Sasha Ingber (06:06):

Well, this is one of the big levers that Chinese officers and agents have been using. For this story, in January, I spoke with one man who said that he and his wife were happily married, but the authorities were going after his wife’s family in China. And it had become so awful that they chose to divorce here in the United States to try to ease some of that pressure. He said that members of his family have been imprisoned. And he said that Chinese authorities forced a friend of his in China to actually foot the bill on hiring private investigators here in the US to track him down, not only in New York pretending to be car insurance salespeople, but also in Texas. I could really go on here. But essentially, that immigration lawyer, Mike Gao, told me that some people really do cave here. They end up going back. They are told that they will have their freedom. And sometimes, they end up behind bars.

Speaker 6 (07:08):

And they love their family. They love their family. National security correspondent, Sasha Ingber. Thank you.

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