Dickson Yeo out of detention on Dec. 14, poses no security threat to S'pore: ISD

ISD cautions Singaporeans to be vigilant towards attempts by foreign agents to use them as proxies to pursue interests of foreign states.

Kayla Wong | December 14, 2021, 02:00 PM

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Dickson Yeo, a Singaporean man, who was arrested by the Internal Security Department (ISD) on Dec. 30, 2020 under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for being a threat to Singapore, has been released on Dec. 14.

Yeo carried out tasks for foreign handlers in return for money

The ISD said in a statement the 40-year-old has been released on a Suspension Direction, which is a ministerial direction to suspend the operation of an existing Order of Detention.

ISD further said on the day of Yeo's release that investigations into the full extent of the detained man's activities established that his dealings with the foreign state were clandestine in nature.

They said:

"His foreign handlers had first reached out to him in 2015 through an online professional networking site. They subsequently invited him to an academic symposium overseas, where he was approached to write reports for them.

Yeo would go on to carry out various taskings given to him by his foreign handlers in exchange for monetary gain from 2016 to 2019."

The 40-year-old was fully aware that his handlers were working for the intelligence apparatus of a foreign state, ISD added.

Yeo tasked to source for information including Singapore-related issues

The intelligence agency said investigations have shown that Yeo was tasked to source for information and provide reports on issues of interest to his foreign handlers, for which he was paid "substantial amounts".

"Those reports were primarily on global and regional geo-political issues and developments, including issues related to Singapore," they said.

Yeo's modus operandi

To this end, Yeo had approached various individuals in Singapore whom he thought would have privileged information on the issues.

He had even set up a front company in Singapore and placed employment advertisements on social networking sites, with a view to identify potential writers and talent-spot individuals for his foreign handlers.

Using "research for foreign clients" as a cover, Yeo had informed the individuals he approached and the potential writers that the taskings were instead “research topics" for "various foreign clients", ISD added.

Furthermore, on the direction of his handlers, Yeo had also applied for sensitive government positions in order to enrich his reports with privileged policy insights and classified information.

However, ISD said, his attempts to secure employment in the public sector were unsuccessful.

Yeo didn't manage to obtain classified information about Singapore

Based on ISD’s investigation findings, Yeo did not manage to obtain and pass on any classified information about Singapore to his foreign handlers.

According to the ISD, information from their interviews with individuals whom Yeo had approached and other related investigations have largely corroborated what Yeo has disclosed or admitted to.

"The threat that Yeo poses as a foreign agent is assessed to be effectively neutralised," ISD said.

"As such, he does not pose a security threat that warrants continued detention."

Singaporeans should remain vigilant

ISD further warned Singaporeans about such "attempts to target Singapore or use Singaporeans as proxies to pursue the interests of foreign states", which they say are "not new".

ISD said Yeo’s case "demonstrates how the threat has become more pronounced with the prevalence of social media, which has made it easier for foreign intelligence services to talent-spot, groom and cultivate potential agents, even from abroad".

ISD further explained that this threat has manifested widely in several other countries, where retired or serving civil servants and individuals in the private sector with access to classified or sensitive information, have been targeted by foreign intelligence services via social networking sites.

The agency cautioned Singaporeans to remain vigilant to such dangers posed by foreign agents, who may "use social media profiles to offer attractive business or career opportunities, or even try to obtain sensitive information".

They said,

"The Singapore government takes a very serious view of anyone who enters into a clandestine relationship with a foreign government and engages in activities at the behest of the foreign power that is inimical to our national security and interests, including bilateral relations."

ISD urges anyone who suspects that they, or people that they know of, may have been approached by foreign agents to contact the Internal Security Department at 1800-2626-473 (1800-2626-ISD).

Spied for China in the U.S.

Yeo had previously admitted in the U.S. federal court to have spied for China in the U.S. for monetary rewards.

In response, China has claimed that it was unaware of Yeo's case, and urged the U.S. to stop its campaign to "smear China".

In 2015, during a trip to Beijing, Yeo was recruited by Chinese intelligence operatives who claimed to represent think tanks.

He was enrolled at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) during that time.

According to retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan, China-born American academic Huang Jing was Yeo's PhD supervisor at LKYSPP.

Huang's permanent residence in Singapore was cancelled in 2017 after he was identified as an agent of influence of a foreign country.

He is now the dean of the Institute of International and Regional Studies at Beijing Language and Culture University.

Singaporeans should not be naive about nature of international relations

Commenting on Yeo's release, Bilahari told Mothership that he hoped Yeo has "learnt a lesson".

“More importantly, I hope all Singaporeans have learnt a lesson and not be naive about the nature of international relations," he added.

"We often talk about China being a ‘friendly’ country and so it is," he said.

He continued, "In fact, we have ‘friendly’ relations with all countries that want to be friends with us."

However, he stressed that in international relations, the concept of friendship is "fundamentally different" from personal relations.

While the latter conveys "an emotional connection", friendship in international relations conveys "only a convergence of national interests".

He continued:

"Such a convergence is always and everywhere contingent upon circumstances and never ever a permanent condition. Nor is convergence necessarily always aligned across all national interests in all domains.

Thus a ‘country that is ‘friendly’ in one domain with regard to one set of interests can be simultaneously ‘unfriendly’ in another domain.

‘Friendly’ countries spy on each other all the time. That’s just a fact of international relations.

Singaporeans should understand that this is a hard world and what I have just said applies to all our international relationships and not just China.”

Top image via Dickson Yeo/Facebook 

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