In March, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted several people for working for the Chinese government to spy, harass, threaten and stalk Chinese dissidents legally living in the United States.
This is called, “Transnational Repression.”
WHY IS THIS CASE PARTICULARLY INTERESTING?
There are several intriguing things about it, such as, one victim was at Tiananmen Square in 1989, escaped to the U.S., became a citizen, served in the U.S. military and is currently running for the U.S Congress.
But this post will focus on the apparent “go-to” of the Chinese MSS to retain U.S. private investigators (PIs) to do their dirty work in the United States.
In this case, the PI was contacted to take part in this “transnational repression” campaign by providing background information and to stalk and intimidate the victims.
A FEW DETAILS
The MSS initially reached out to the PI for the following information on one particular Chinese victim legally living in the United States:
- Home address and phone number
- Family members
- Company information
- What is the business?
- How many members and partners?
- Identity of members and partners
- Names of victim’s assistant and housekeeper
The Investigator agreed to provide the open-source information requested at a cost of $1500. per report.
DID THE PI EVENTUALLY NOTIFY LAW ENFORCEMENT?
After the PI provided that open-source information to the Chinese, the Chinese agent then requested IRS tax returns for the victim running for Congress and asked if the PI had any contacts with the CIA or FBI.
It was at that point that the PI notified the FBI to report being approached.
Here is a quote from the complaint:
“However, the Investigator did not respond, concerned that the requests were from the PRC government. Thereafter, the Investigator contacted the FBI and provided all prior written communications with LIU [Chinese MSS agent] to the FBI.”
The MSS then urged the private investigator to either uncover derogatory information about the victim or create it if none existed, including to beat the victim.
One of the accused named in the complaint that the MSS also retained was a former Florida correctional officer.
Here are a few quotes from the complaint:
“MATTHEW ZIBURIS previously resided in Ocala, Florida and currently resides in Oyster Bay, Long Island. He has worked as a correctional officer for the State of Florida and as a bodyguard.
ZIBURIS has not notified the Attorney General that he is acting as an agent of the PRC government.”
ANOTHER RECENT CASE OF THE CHINESE MSS USING AN AMERICAN PI
In my November 2, 2020, post titled, “U.S Private Investigator – Former Law Enforcement Officer—Arrested for Conspiring with Chinese Foreign Agents in an Illegal Chinese “Fox Hunt” Operation”
Essentially, the private investigator was retained by the Chinese State to assist in coercing the target to return to China. Similarly, the bottom line here is that the Chinese agents who retained the PI and the PI himself were acting as foreign agents in the U.S. without being registered with the U.S. Attorney General.
Here is a sample of actions the private investigator allegedly took on behalf of the Chinese government:
- Signed retainer agreement with Chinese agents and initially paid and deposited $5,000.
- PI updated Chinese agents with surveillance results
- PI was photographed in several meetings with Chinese agents in New Jersey
- PI received a wire transfer of $5,945. from a PRC bank
- PI provided international travel information for victim’s wife
- PI provided date of birth, social security number and bank account information to Chinese agents for the victim’s wife
- A Chinese agent notified PI of the arrival of the victim’s father, and the PI accepted the task to follow the father to his son’s (victim’s) address and maintain surveillance
- On the date of the father’s arrival, the PI sent approximately 13 text messages to the Chinese agent, and the Chinese agent sent about 13 messages to the PI
- A police report indicated that a vehicle registered to the PI was parked in a position to observe the victim’s wife’s relatives at their home at the same time the victim’s father was in that home
- PI emailed himself a China-based link which indicated “Interpol Launches Global Dragnet for 100 Chinese Fugitives” while surveilling the victim
FBI ANNOUNCEMENT TO PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS
In the March complaint announcement, the DOJ specifically called on private investigators to notify the FBI when contacted.
Alan Kohler, FBI Assistant Director, Counterintelligence Division, stated the following:
“…I will also note the use of private investigators in many of these cases, I would urge all private investigators that have been asked to gather information on dissidents or have been approached by foreign governments to immediately report such requests to the FBI.
*Although not specified in the criminal complaint or the DOJ press conference, it appears that the private investigator’s notification to law enforcement was the catalyst for the investigation.
KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER
In all the cases that I am aware of in which an American private investigator has gotten in hot water with the law, the Chinese agents were dealing directly with the PI.
Therefore, it would be a good idea for PIs to apply the fundamentals of ‘Know Your Customer’ before accepting an assignment.
SUGGESTIONS FOR PIs
For entities in China that have a legitimate need for private investigation service in the U.S., here are a few suggestions:
- Do not accept work directly from Chinese clients
- Only consider accepting work from American attorneys representing the Chinese client
- Conduct some due diligence on the American attorney representing the Chinese client. (It is not difficult to identify reputable attorneys that do legitimate legal work for Chinese entities, or American entities doing business in China.)
If contacted directly by a Chinese public/private institution, the first question a PI should ask is whether an attorney in the U.S. represents the client.
This is darn serious business. American private investigators need to be darn careful when approached by Chinese representatives. Do not allow the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to use you to do their dirty work.
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