Eight Individuals Charged With Conspiring to Act as Illegal Agents of the People’s Republic of China

PRC Officials Directed Multi-Year Campaign of Harassment and Stalking; Directed at U.S. Residents to Force Their Return to PRC

A complaint and arrest warrants were unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging eight defendants with conspiring to act in the United States as illegal agents of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  Six defendants also face related charges of conspiring to commit interstate and international stalking.  The defendants, allegedly acting at the direction and under the control of PRC government officials, conducted surveillance of and engaged in a campaign to harass, stalk, and coerce certain residents of the United States to return to the PRC as part of a global, concerted, and extralegal repatriation effort known as “Operation Fox Hunt.” 

Zhu Yong, Hongru Jin, and Michael McMahon were arrested today and will be arraigned this afternoon via teleconference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo.  Rong Jing and Zheng Congying were arrested in the Central District of California, and their initial appearances will take place in that district later today.  Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Li Minjun remain at large.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “The five defendants the FBI arrested this morning on these charges of illegally doing the bidding of the Chinese government here in the United States 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.  This behavior is not welcome here.”

“The Chinese government’s brazen attempts to surveil, threaten, and harass our own citizens and lawful permanent residents, while on American soil, are part of China’s diverse campaign of theft and malign influence in our country and around the world,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.  “The FBI will use all of its tools to investigate and defeat these outrageous actions by the Chinese government, which are an affront to America’s ideals of freedom, human rights, and the rule of law.”

“As alleged, the defendants assisted PRC officials in a scheme to coerce targeted individuals to return to the PRC against their will,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme.  “The United States will not tolerate the conduct of PRC carrying out state-authorized actions on U.S. soil without notice to, and coordination with, the appropriate U.S. authorities.  Nor will we tolerate the unlawful harassment and stalking of U.S. residents to further PRC objectives.”  Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme also extended his thanks and appreciation to the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office for their work on the case.

“Today’s announcement of these charges further highlights the FBI’s ongoing and aggressive commitment to investigate China’s efforts to illegally impose its will in the United States”, said Special Agent in Charge George M. Crouch Jr. of the FBI Newark Field Office.  “This case should serve as a reminder to the People’s Republic of China that when it directs criminal activity within our borders, the FBI and its law enforcement partners will make sure the perpetrators are held accountable.”

“The worldwide presence and investigative capabilities of the Diplomatic Security Service enables us to work with our law enforcement partners domestically and around the world to bring criminals to justice,” said Keith Byrne, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Diplomatic Security Service.

According to the complaint, the defendants participated in an international campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe-1, a resident of New Jersey, and his family in order to force them to return to the PRC as part of an international effort by the PRC government known within the PRC as “Operation Fox Hunt” and “Operation Skynet.”  In furtherance of the operation, the PRC government targets Chinese individuals living in foreign countries that the PRC government alleges have committed crimes under PRC law and seeks to repatriate them to the PRC to face charges.  Rather than rely upon proper forms of international law enforcement cooperation, such as Interpol “red notices” and requests for information through appropriate governmental channels, the defendants allegedly engaged in clandestine, unsanctioned, and illegal conduct within the United States and facilitated the travel of PRC government officials (PRC Officials) to U.S. soil in order to further carry out these illegal acts.  Between 2016 and 2019, multiple PRC Officials directed the defendants, and several others, to engage in efforts to coerce the victims to return to the PRC, which included the following:

Surveillance and Coercion

In April 2017, defendants Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Hongru Jin, Zhu Yong, and Michael McMahon, together with others, including the PRC Officials, allegedly participated in a scheme to bring John Doe-1’s elderly father from the PRC to the United States against the father’s will and to use the surprise arrival of his elderly father to threaten and attempt to coerce John Doe-1’s return to the PRC.  Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, and Zhu Yong worked with Michael McMahon, a private investigator, to gather intelligence about and locate John Doe-1 and his wife in the United States.  PRC Officials coerced the father of John Doe-1 to travel from the PRC to the New York area in the company of Li Minjun, a doctor, who traveled with the elderly father from the PRC to the New York area.  Hongru Jin assisted with logistics of the operation when Zhu Feng, Li Minjun, John Doe-1’s elderly father, and other PRC officials arrived in the U.S.

As charged in the complaint, during this phase of the scheme, McMahon, whose task was to surveil John Doe-1’s father in order to locate John Doe-1 and his wife, suggested to Zhu Feng that they could “harass [John Doe-1].  Park outside his home and let him know we are there.”  Later, Zhu Feng told McMahon, “[t]hey definitely grant u a nice trip if they can get [John Doe-1] back to China haha.”

The conspirators also discussed the false statements John Doe-1’s father should make to U.S. immigration authorities about the purpose of his travel to the United States.  The conspirators also made efforts to destroy evidence and delete their electronic communications to avoid detection by U.S. law enforcement.

Targeting and Harassment of Victims’ Daughter

Between May 2017 and July 2018, Rong Jing and several co-conspirators allegedly targeted John Doe-1’s adult daughter for surveillance and online harassment.  Specifically, Rong Jing attempted to hire a private investigator to locate John Doe-1’s adult daughter in order to photograph and video record the daughter as part of a campaign to exert pressure on John Doe-1.  Around the same time, an unidentified co-conspirator sent harassing messages over social media to John Doe-1’s daughter and her friends related to the PRC’s interest in repatriating John Doe-1.

Continued Harassment of Victims

In September 2018, Zheng Congying and another unidentified co-conspirator allegedly affixed a threatening note to the door of the John Doe-1’s residence stating, “If you are willing to go back to mainland and spend 10 years in prison, your wife and children will be all right.  That’s the end of this matter!”  Between February 2019 and April 2019, other co-conspirators caused unsolicited packages to be sent to John Doe-1’s residence.  These packages contained letters and a video with messages intended to coerce John Doe-1’s return to the PRC by threatening harm to family members still residing in the PRC.

The charges in the complaint are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  If convicted of the charged conspiracy to act as an agent of the PRC, each of the eight defendants charged today faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  Defendants Zhu Feng, Hu Ji, Li Minjun, Michael McMahon, Rong Jing, and Zheng Congying also face an additional charge of conspiracy to commit interstate and international stalking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and Cybercrime Section.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Craig R. Heeren and J. Matthew Haggans are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorney Scott A. Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

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    Based on GAO analysis of stakeholder views, five cross-cutting challenges affect the U.S. recycling system: (1) contamination of recyclables; (2) low collection of recyclables; (3) limited market demand for recyclables; (4) low profitability for operating recycling programs; and (5) limited information to support decision-making about recycling. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) most recent data show that less than a quarter of the waste generated in the United States is collected for recycling (69 million of 292 million tons) and is potentially available, along with new materials, to make new products (see fig.). Estimated Generation and Disposition of Waste in the United States, as of 2018 EPA, the Departments of Commerce (Commerce) and Energy, and the Federal Trade Commission have taken actions that advance recycling, such as collecting data and awarding grants for research on recycling technologies. However, EPA has not conducted studies or developed recommendations for administrative or legislative action on the effect of existing public policies on recycling, as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires. Conducting these studies would provide Congress with information to better evaluate the effect of different policies on U.S. recycling efforts. In addition, Commerce is not fully meeting its RCRA requirement to stimulate the development of markets for recycled materials because it has not taken actions to stimulate domestic markets, as GAO recommended in 2006. Commerce officials stated that their work to stimulate international markets fulfills Commerce's obligations under RCRA. Congress may need to act to clarify Commerce's responsibilities under RCRA or assign responsibility for stimulating domestic markets to another agency. By taking action, Congress can ensure a federal response to the reduction in international demand for U.S. recyclables. EPA has taken several actions to plan and coordinate national efforts to advance recycling, such as releasing a draft national recycling strategy in October 2020. However, EPA has not incorporated some desirable characteristics for effective national strategies, identified in prior GAO work. By better incorporating such characteristics as it finalizes and implements its draft strategy, EPA will have greater assurance of the strategy's usefulness in making resource and policy decisions and will better ensure accountability for its implementation. In 1976, Congress sought to reduce solid waste and encourage recycling as part of RCRA, which gave primary responsibility for recycling to states and municipalities but requires EPA and Commerce to take specific actions. The United States generated almost 1,800 pounds of waste per capita in 2018. Recycling rates for common recyclables, such as paper, plastics, glass, and some metals, remain low. Furthermore, recent international import restrictions have reduced demand for U.S. exports of recyclables. GAO was asked to review federal efforts that advance recycling in the United States. This report examines (1) cross-cutting challenges affecting recycling in the United States, (2) actions that selected federal agencies have taken that advance recycling, and (3) actions EPA has taken to plan and coordinate national efforts to advance recycling. GAO reviewed laws and agency documents; and interviewed federal officials and nonfederal stakeholders, such as states, municipalities, and industry representatives, selected for their expertise and efforts to advance recycling. GAO is making one matter for congressional consideration to clarify a RCRA requirement for Commerce or to assign responsibility for stimulating domestic markets to another agency; and three recommendations to EPA, including that it take actions to fulfill certain RCRA requirements. EPA concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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  • The Nation’s Fiscal Health: Information on the Spending and Revenue Implications of Potential Debt Targets
    In U.S GAO News
    The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated major federal spending to respond to the national public health emergency and resulting economic turmoil. This response and the severe economic contraction from the pandemic have led to increased federal debt. Once the COVID-19 pandemic abates and the economy has substantially recovered, Congress and the administration will need to address the federal government’s fiscal challenges. To help change the long-term fiscal path, in September 2020 GAO recommended that Congress consider establishing a long-term fiscal plan that includes fiscal rules and targets, such as a debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) target. In this report, GAO analyzed the changes in spending and revenue needed to reach six potential debt-to-GDP targets at the end of a 30-year period (2020-2049). To reach any of the targets, policymakers will need to cut program spending, increase revenue, or, most likely, a combination of both (see table). Illustrative Examples of Changes Needed to Achieve Debt-to-GDP Targets Debt target, percent of GDP (end of 30 years) Spending and revenue: total change over 30 years Program spending alone: Immediate and permanent decrease needed in annual projected program spendinga Revenue alone: Immediate and permanent increase needed in annual projected revenue Percent Dollars, trillions Percent Percent 140 25.4 13.8 18.5 120 31.2 16.9 22.8 100 37 20 27 80 42.8 23.1 31.2 60 48.5 26.3 35.4 0 (paying off all debt) 65.9 35.7 48.1 Source: GAO simulation. | GAO-21-211. Note: The simulation used for this analysis generally reflect historical trends, such as the extension of tax provisions scheduled to expire. It does not account for potential macroeconomic effects of fiscal policy changes over time. aProgram spending consists of all spending except interest payments on debt held by the public. When considering the spending and revenue changes needed to achieve various debt-to-GDP targets, policymakers may also consider how changes in assumptions about key variables—such as discretionary spending, revenue, and GDP—affect these fiscal outcomes. For example, if GDP growth is greater than expected, policymakers may have to make smaller spending cuts or revenue increases to reach a selected debt-to-GDP target than those that would be needed based on GAO’s standard assumptions. GAO created an interactive web tool accompanying this report to allow users to enter different assumptions for each of these variables. This tool illustrates how these changes would affect the different debt-to-GDP targets over time, as well as the changes in spending and revenue needed to achieve various targets. This tool can be found at https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-21-211. Even before the fiscal and economic effects resulting from COVID-19, an imbalance between federal revenue and spending that is built into current law and policy was contributing to the growing federal debt. The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2023 federal debt held by the public will reach 107 percent of GDP, its highest point in U.S. history. This situation—in which federal debt grows faster than GDP—means that our nation is on an unsustainable fiscal path. GAO was asked to review issues related to fiscal rules and targets and the federal fiscal condition. In response to this request, in September 2020, GAO issued a report (GAO-20-561) on key considerations for the design, implementation, and enforcement of fiscal rules and targets. This report supplements that work and describes how changes in assumptions of future spending and revenue affect the federal government’s projected fiscal condition. GAO updated its long-term simulations of federal revenue and spending to (1) analyze six potential debt-to-GDP targets and (2) measure the fiscal gap—the policy change needed to reach a given debt-to-GDP fiscal target from the start to the end of 30-years. GAO also analyzed how changes in key variables affected the debt-to-GDP targets and the fiscal gap. For more information, contact Jeff Arkin at (202) 512-6806 or arkinj@gao.gov.
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  • VA Health Care: Better Data Needed to Assess the Health Outcomes of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Veterans
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) analyzes national-level data by birth sex to assess health outcomes for women veterans. For example, it analyzes frequency data to identify their most common health conditions. However, VHA is limited in its assessment of health outcomes for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) veteran population because it does not consistently collect sexual orientation or self-identified gender identity (SIGI) data. VHA officials stated that providers may record veterans' sexual orientation—which can be used to identify lesbian, gay, and bisexual veterans—in non-standardized clinical notes in electronic health records. However, without a standardized field, providers may not be consistently collecting these data, and VHA does not know the total number of these veterans in its system. VHA officials recognize the importance of consistently collecting these data, but have yet to develop and implement a field for doing so. VHA collects SIGI data—which can be used in part to identify transgender veterans—in enrollment, administrative, and electronic health record systems. Although VHA has worked to improve the collection of these data, GAO found inconsistencies in how VHA records SIGI and, according to VA, 89 percent of veterans' records lack SIGI information. VHA added a field to collect this information in the administrative system; however, these data are not linked to electronic health records. As such, VHA providers cannot see the data during clinical visits when determining the appropriate services for transgender veterans, such as screening certain transgender men for breast and cervical cancers, as required by VHA policy. VHA's plan to link SIGI data across both systems has been postponed several times, and the data remain unlinked. VHA Sexual Orientation and Self-Identified Gender Identity (SIGI) Data Collection Limitations, Fiscal Year 2020 Until VHA can more consistently collect and analyze sexual orientation and SIGI data for the veteran population served, it will have a limited understanding of the health care needs of LGBT veterans, including any disparities they may face. VHA provides care to a diverse population of veterans, including women and LGBT veterans. These veterans may experience differences in health outcomes that are closely linked with social or economic disadvantage, and VA considers it important to analyze the services they receive as well as their health outcomes to improve health equity. House Report 115-188 included a provision for GAO to review VA's data collection and reporting procedures for information on veterans' gender and sexual orientation. This report describes how VHA assesses health outcomes for women veterans and examines the extent to which VHA assesses health outcomes for LGBT veterans. GAO reviewed VHA directives and VHA's Health Equity Action Plan. GAO interviewed officials from VHA's Women's Health Services and LGBT Health Program, VHA researchers who focus on women and LGBT veterans, and representatives from other health care systems with experience collecting gender and sexual orientation information. GAO is making four recommendations to VA to consistently collect sexual orientation and SIGI data, and analyze these data to assess health outcomes for LGBT veterans. VA concurred with GAO's recommendations and identified actions it is taking to address them. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
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  • Food Safety: CDC Could Further Strengthen Its Efforts to Identify and Respond to Foodborne Illnesses
    In U.S GAO News
    The roles and responsibilities of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during a multistate foodborne illness outbreak include analyzing federal foodborne illness surveillance networks to identify outbreaks, leading investigations to determine the food causing the outbreak, and communicating with the public. CDC also works to build and maintain federal, state, territorial, and local capacity to respond to foodborne illness outbreaks by awarding funds to state and local public health agencies and through other initiatives. In identifying and responding to multistate foodborne illness outbreaks, CDC faces challenges related to clinical methods and communication, and it has taken some steps to respond to these challenges. One challenge stems from the increasing clinical use of culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs). CIDTs diagnose foodborne illnesses faster and cheaper than traditional methods, but because they do not create DNA fingerprints that can specify a pathogen, they may reduce CDC's ability to identify an outbreak. A CDC working group recommended in May 2018 that CDC develop a plan to respond to the increasing use of CIDTs. By developing a plan, CDC will have greater assurance of continued access to necessary information. CDC also faces a challenge in balancing the competing needs for timeliness and accuracy in its outbreak communications while maintaining public trust. CDC has an internal framework to guide its communications decisions during outbreaks, and it recognizes that stakeholders would like more transparency about these decisions. By making its framework publicly available, CDC could better foster public trust in its information and guidance during outbreaks. CDC has taken steps to evaluate its performance in identifying and responding to multistate outbreaks. Specifically, CDC has developed general strategic goals (see fig.) and taken initial steps to develop performance measures. However, CDC has not yet established other elements of a performance assessment system—an important component of effective program management. CDC's Use of Elements of Program Performance Assessment Systems In particular, CDC has not set specific performance goals, used performance measures to track progress, or conducted a program evaluation of its multistate foodborne illness outbreak investigation efforts. By implementing all elements of a performance assessment system, CDC could better assess its progress toward meeting its goals, identify potentially underperforming areas, and use that information to improve its performance. CDC has estimated that each year, one in six people in the United States gets a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. CDC data show increases in the number of reported multistate foodborne illness outbreaks—groups of two or more linked cases in multiple states—in recent years. Such outbreaks are responsible for a disproportionate number of hospitalizations and deaths, compared with single-state outbreaks. GAO was asked to review CDC's response to multistate foodborne illness outbreaks. This report examines (1) CDC's roles and responsibilities, (2) challenges that CDC faces and the extent to which it has addressed these challenges, and (3) the extent to which CDC evaluates its performance. GAO reviewed agency documents and data; conducted site visits and case studies; and interviewed federal, state, and local public health officials, as well as representatives of stakeholder groups. GAO is recommending that CDC (1) develop a plan to respond to the increasing use of CIDTs, (2) make publicly available its decision-making framework for communicating about multistate foodborne illness outbreaks, and (3) implement all the elements of a performance assessment system. CDC concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Steve D. Morris at (202) 512-3841 or morriss@gao.gov.
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