A Singaporean national pleaded guilty Friday to operating as a covert Chinese intelligence agent in U.S. who recruited an Army officer, and targeted State Department and Pentagon officials as unwitting agents.
Jun Wei Yeo, also known as Dickson Yeo, wrote for several publications on Chinese affairs. He admitted in a court statement he worked secretly for China’s intelligence service to recruit U.S. government officials as spies and to supply information to Beijing.
“This case again highlights how [China‘s] intelligence service is operating in our backyard” to “target and groom for theft of our intellectual property and classified national defense information,” said Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
According to a statement of facts submitted in court, Yeo sought “to obtain valuable non-public information from the United States.”
“Using the internet and various social media sites, Yeo worked to spot and assess Americans with access to valuable non-public information, including U.S. military and government employees with high-level security clearances,” the statement said. Yeo only told contacts he was working for “clients in Asia.”
In a signed statement, Yeo pleaded guilty to one count of acting illegally as an unreported foreign agent. He could not be reached for comment and his lawyer, Michelle Peterson, did not return an email seeking comment.
Yeo was a visiting scholar at George Washington University’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliott School of international affairs from January 2019 to January 2020. He also wrote numerous articles for online and print journals, including an article for the journal Breaking Defense in February 2019 headlined “The Middle Kingdom is Dead; Long Live a Global China.”
His LinkedIn page lists his employment as a consultant at KWR International Inc. in New York and Singapore, working to “bridge North America with Beijing, Tokyo and South East Asia.”
“After his presentation, Yeo was recruited by various individuals who claimed to represent PRC-based think tanks,” the statement said.
“These individuals offered Yeo money in exchange for political reports and information. Yeo came to understand that at least four of these individuals were intelligence operatives for the PRC government.”
Yeo, according to investigators, was tasked in up to 20 meetings to obtain non-public information, including “scuttlebutt” on such topics as Commerce Department actions, artificial intelligence and “the ‘trade war’ between China and the United States.” Yeo used the internet and social media to identify and recruit Americans to supply him with information.
He was also ordered by China in 2018 to set up a fake consulting firm and to post job listings for the company as a way to find agents. Some 400 people sent their resumes to him, 90% from “U.S. military and government personnel with security clearances.” The resumes were sent to Chinese intelligence officers.
He also used an unnamed professional networking website to seek out agents for China. The networking site then began an automated process to supply more names — Yeo told U.S. law enforcement that collecting the contacts “felt almost like an addiction.”
Among those recruited was a civilian Air Force employee who worked on F-35B fighter jets and who was in financial trouble. Yeo recruited the employee to write reports for money, including information on the impact of Japan’s purchase of U.S. F-35 fighter jets. The U.S. government announced last week that Tokyo is buying more than 100 F-35s in a deal worth $23 billion.
The officer “confided to Yeo that he was traumatized by his military tours in Afghanistan,” the statement said, noting that the officer wrote a report on the impact on China of the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He was paid $2,000 for the report to his wife’s bank account.
A third U.S. recruit was identified in the statement as a State Department employee who was described as “dissatisfied at work and was having financial troubles” and worried about his upcoming retirement. The employee was paid to write a report on a “then serving member of the U.S. Cabinet.”
The employee “feared that if officials at the Department of State discovered that he provided information to Yeo, it would jeopardize his retirement pension.” The employee was paid $1,000 or $2,000 for the report that did not identify the Cabinet member.
Yeo said he was directed not to communicate with Chinese intelligence while in the U.S., noting one operative told him not to email from the local coffee shop and a second contact warned him not to take his phone or notebooks when traveling in the United States. Beijing spies used the Chinese encrypted messaging application WeChat and multiple phones to contact him.
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