A honey trap. False accusations of child porn. Unfounded charges of tax evasion. And if that didn’t work, then all-out violence might do the trick.
Those are the lengths the Chinese government was prepared to take to destroy the congressional campaign of a former Tiananmen Square protester now living in exile in New York, according to the FBI.
Details of the scheme are laid out in a newly unsealed arrest warrant affidavit reviewed by The Daily Beast, which demonstrates China’s global reach in suppressing dissent—in this instance, “to prevent the candidate from drawing additional public attention to himself and his political speech,” the filing states.
“The PRC government’s efforts to censor political dissent extends beyond the PRC’s national borders,” it explains. China often uses the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the nation’s foreign intelligence and secret police agency, as well as the First Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, to monitor dissidents worldwide, the affidavit explains, noting the cooperation of private individuals to help “influence, threaten and coerce” those targeted by Beijing.
After the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989, the targeted pol, who is not identified by name in the affidavit, fled to the United States and served in the U.S. military, the affidavit explains. He now lives in the Eastern District of New York, which includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island.
The filing describes Xiong Yan, a Tiananmen student leader who escaped to the U.S. in 1992 and was granted political asylum, the Department of Justice confirmed at a press conference on Wednesday. Yan joined the U.S. Army in 1994, and retired in September 2021, around the same time he announced he would run for Congress. He did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment on Tuesday. Reached by phone, Jian Liang Chen, his campaign treasurer, hung up when asked about the allegations.
Yan first came under Chinese surveillance last September, around the time he announced his intention to run for Congress in New York in 2022, the filing says, noting that the primary is set for June.
That same month, a private investigator contacted the FBI and said he had been approached by a now-retired Chinese police officer and Ministry of State Security agent named Qiming Lin, 59, who wanted to “find information on the Victim, including his phone number, address, and vehicle,” according to the affidavit. On Sept. 22, the PI emailed Lin the candidate’s details, as well as surveillance photos of his home.
A little more than a week later, the FBI listened in on a call the PI had with Lin.
“Hello? Brother Ming! Hello, hello,” the PI said, according to the affidavit. “Ok, because this person [the Victim] is a little complicated. So, we’ve decided that my partner and I are going to follow him for a few weeks to see what he has to see whom he gets in touch with, and where he frequents, etc.”
“OK, good, good,” Lin said, according to the affidavit. “And if you don’t find anything after following him for a few weeks, can we manufacture something, like what happened to [the Pianist?]”
The “pianist” in question appears to be a reference to “Piano Prince” Li Yundi, a celebrated Chinese musician allegedly caught by Beijing police soliciting a prostitute last year.
“The comment from Lin regarding the Pianist suggested the derogatory information regarding the Pianist may have been manufactured,” the affidavit explains.
In November, FBI agents listened in on another call between the PI and Lin. During this conversation, Lin allegedly said that “we don’t want him to be elected.”
“As approximately a half of a year still remained before the primary, Lin indicated that he wanted the PI to see if there could be a scandal about the Victim that could be publicly released, such as an extramarital affair or ‘stealing water,’” the filing continues, noting that “stealing water” is Cantonese slang for stealing money. Lin then allegedly said that if the PI couldn’t find any dirt on the candidate, then perhaps they could “create some.” He instructed the PI to contact the media and to “do everything at once,” before asking the PI for a formal proposal and a cost estimate, the filing states.
Days later, the two had a follow-up conversation in which Lin told the PI to “dig up things from 1989 to now… To see if there are any flaws before participating in the election now.” These so-called flaws could be “unreported, unpaid taxes” or “[e]xtramarital affairs; affairs; uh, sexual harassment; or child porn; eh, [homosexual activity], things of that nature,” Lin explained. The PI might consider using “cops, or lawyers, or the courts…or some sort of channel…to see, to see if he had any flaws, we dig it back up… Right now-right now we will have a lot more-more of this in the future…Including right now [a] New York State legislator…”
If he came through with the goods, Lin said the PI would receive “support… from some rich people,” according to the affidavit.
The goal was to demolish Yan’s candidacy “before getting power,” Lin allegedly stated.
“You go find a girl for him, see if he would take the bait,” Lin continued, the affidavit says. Before they hung up, Lin allegedly told the PI he would pay him for his work during a trip to the U.S. after the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Over the next two months, the PI and Lin kept in touch about the alleged scheme, the affidavit says. Lin suggested that he was taking orders about the operation from higher-ups, telling the PI at one point that he needed to “wait until next week, when the bosses gather together, to see what their opinion is.”
Last Christmas Eve, Lin left a voicemail for the PI, saying, “Still going back to what we said before… Which is, I hope that it’s not simply to slap some dirt on his face or whatnot, must go deep… Go deep and dig up something. Right? For example, past incidents of tax evasion. For example, if he used prostitutes in the past. For example, if he had a mistress. Right? His undisciplined way of living, right? Things that can become dirt. If you can find it, or to create one, then it’s okay. Okay? Just taking photos, or chatting, that’s useless. Right now, must get some dirt. Because we already know everything in his past. But how to fully use you, to dig up stuff on him. This is what you need to do. We don’t need to do anything just on the surface, alright? Don’t waste your energy.”
In a subsequent call later that day, the PI and Lin discussed strategy, the affidavit says. The “dirt” could involve a family member, Lin allegedly said, and he wanted Yan out of the race before the primary.
“Whatever price is fine,” Lin said. “As long as you can do it.”
After they hung up, Lin allegedly left the PI a voicemail in which he told the PI to consider violence if all else were to fail.
“You can start thinking now, aside from violence, what other plans are there? Huh?” he said, according to the affidavit. “But in the end, violence would be fine too. Huh? Beat him, beat him until he cannot run for election. Heh, that’s the last resort. You think about it. Car accident, [he] will be completely wrecked, right? ... Or, on the day of the election, he cannot make it there himself, right? The conclusion is, you think of a plan.”
On New Year’s Eve, the PI told Lin that “the proposal is done.” A couple of days later, according to the affidavit, the two discussed hiring a campaign staffer to “have a relationship with him” and “record the transaction between the two of them.” This would mean a payment of $40,000 to the woman, the PI told Lin, who allegedly replied, “No problem. The money is not a problem… [t]he key is we do this now.”
On Tuesday, the PI and Lin spoke for the last time, the feds say. Lin said he hadn’t gotten “final approval” from his superiors on the payment terms.
“Because the Communist Party, as you know, so many things,” said Lin. “It’s not just one person who can call the shots.”
The DOJ on Wednesday also announced charges in two separate but related cases involving four more suspected agents working on behalf of China. One of them, 73-year-old Shijun Wang, was a double agent posing as a pro-democracy activist in Queens, New York, where the feds say he was tasked by the MSS to spy on Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians living in America, as well as an unnamed activist referred to in court filings as “Hong Kong Dissident #1.” Wang, who is charged with acting as an agent of the PRC government, criminal use of means of identification, and making materially false statements, was arrested by the FBI Wednesday morning.
In the other case, Long Island media executive Fan “Frank” Liu, China-based tech worker Qiang “Jason” Sun, and a former Florida correctional officer named Matthew Ziburis are accused of spying on numerous pro-democracy activists living in the U.S. on behalf of China’s state security services. One of the targets was the father of Olympic figure skater Alysa Liu, a Chinese-born lawyer in Northern California who is considered an “anti-CCP, pro-democracy dissident” by the Chinese government. The three are charged with, variously, conspiring to act as agents of the PRC government, conspiring to commit interstate harassment, and criminal use of a means of identification. Liu and Ziburis were arrested on Tuesday. Sun remains a fugitive.
Lin, who remains at large, is charged with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and misuse of a means of identification to commit interstate harassment. He does not have a lawyer listed in court records, and was unable to be reached.