A Singaporean pleaded guilty on Friday, July 24 to being an illegal agent of China by using his political consultancy in the United States as a front to collect information for Chinese intelligence.
Yeo Jun Wei, also known as Dickson Yeo, entered his plea in federal court in Washington to one charge of operating illegally as a foreign agent, the U.S. Justice Department announced.
Yeo, 39, was "using career networking sites and a false consulting firm to lure Americans who might be of interest to the Chinese government," said Assistant Attorney General John Demers in a statement.
Yeo's plea was entered via videoconference.
What Yeo did
Yeo is said to have targeted U.S. government employees and an Army officer to obtain information for the government of China at the direction of Chinese intelligence operatives.
According to Yeo's LinkedIn profile, he studied in National Junior College in Singapore in 1998 and 1999.
He then appeared to have embarked on his tertiary education in his adult life after several gap years.
He spent 2004 to 2006 studying mass communications in the Oklahoma City University.
He then went to the National University of Singapore from 2009 to 2011 to obtain his master's degree in South East Asian Studies.
He then got his doctorate degree from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy where he started as a PhD candidate in 2015.
That was the year that Yeo supposedly embarked on his agent work for China.
Started in 2015
Yeo began working with Chinese intelligence officers as early as 2015, focusing on the U.S., but initially targeting other Asian countries.
Yeo's transgressions were reported publicly by the United States Attorney's Office District of Columbia.
In response to taskings from his Chinese intelligence contacts, 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.
After Yeo identified American targets, he solicited them for non-public information and paid them to write reports.
Yeo told these American targets that the reports were for clients in Asia, without revealing that they were in fact destined for the Chinese government.
Made use of social media sites
Yeo made use of various social media sites to carry out the taskings given to him by Chinese intelligence operatives.
In 2018, Yeo created a fake consulting company that used the same name as a prominent U.S. consulting firm that conducts public and government relations, and he posted job advertisements under that company name.
Some 90 per cent of the resumes Yeo received in response were from U.S. military and government personnel with security clearances, and he passed resumes of interest to one of the Chinese intelligence operatives.
Yeo also used a professional networking website that is focused on career and employment information to carry out the taskings he received from Chinese intelligence officials.
He used the professional networking website to find individuals with resumes and job descriptions suggesting that they would have access to valuable information.
After he identified individuals worth targeting, Yeo followed guidance he received from Chinese intelligence operatives regarding how to recruit potential targets, including identifying their vulnerabilities, such as dissatisfaction with work or financial difficulties.
Maximum penalty: 10 years jail
The maximum penalty Yeo is facing is 10 years in jail.
Sentencing is set for Oct. 9, 2020.
The investigation into this matter was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington Field Office and the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service.
Responses by U.S. officials
"Mr. Yeo admits he set up a fake consulting company to further his scheme, looked for susceptible individuals who were vulnerable to recruitment, and tried to avoid detection by U.S. authorities," said Alan E. Kohler, Jr., Assistant Director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division.
"But this isn't just about this particular defendant. This case is yet another reminder that China is relentless in its pursuit of U.S. technology and policy information in order to advance its own interests."
"The FBI and our partners will be just as aggressive in uncovering these hidden efforts and charging individuals who break our laws."
“The Chinese Government uses an array of duplicity to obtain sensitive information from unsuspecting Americans,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.
“Yeo was central to one such scheme, using career networking sites and a false consulting firm to lure Americans who might be of interest to the Chinese government. This is yet another example of the Chinese government’s exploitation of the openness of American society.”
"Today’s guilty plea underscores the ways that the Chinese government continues to target Americans with access to sensitive government information, including using the Internet and non-Chinese nationals to target Americans who never leave the United States,” said Michael R. Sherwin, Acting United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.
“We will continue to prosecute those who use deceptive practices on the Internet and elsewhere to undermine our national security."
“Mr. Yeo admitted that he not only provided valuable information to Chinese intelligence, but also that he knowingly recruited others in the U.S. to do the same,” said FBI Washington Field Office Assistant Director in Charge Timothy R. Slater.
“The tactics Mr. Yeo used to target cleared individuals on professional networking social media sites are just one facet of the full court press China employs on a daily basis to obtain non-public U.S. government information."
"The FBI urges citizens, especially those holding security clearances, to be cautious when being approached by individuals on social media sites with implausible career opportunities. We are committed to holding those accountable who attempt to work for Chinese intelligence and other adversaries to the detriment of our national security."