Saturday, August 22, 2015

• Obama Administration Warns Beijing About Covert Agents Operating in U.S. - By MARK MAZZETTI and DAN LEVIN


By MARK MAZZETTI and DAN LEVIN 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/17/us/politics/obama-administration-warns-beijing-about-agents-operating-in-us.html?_r=2
President Xi Jinping of China, who met with President Obama last year, will be making a state visit to Washington next month. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Exclusive - U.S. to China: Take back your undocumented immigrants - By Mark Hosenball and Tim Reid September 11, 2015



WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has delivered a warning to Beijing about the presence of Chinese government agents operating secretly in the United States to pressure prominent expatriates — some wanted in China on charges of corruption — to return home immediately, according to American officials.



The American officials said that Chinese law enforcement agents covertly in this country are part of Beijing’s global campaign to hunt down and repatriate Chinese fugitives and, in some cases, recover allegedly ill-gotten gains.



The Chinese government has officially named the effort Operation Fox Hunt.


The American warning, which was delivered to Chinese officials in recent weeks and demanded a halt to the activities, reflects escalating anger in Washington about intimidation tactics used by the agents. And it comes at a time of growing tension between Washington and Beijing on a number of issues: from

Those tensions are expected to complicate the state visit to Washington next month by Xi Jinping, the Chinese president.

The work of the agents is a departure from the routine practice of secret government intelligence gathering that the United States and China have carried out on each other’s soil for decades. The Central Intelligence Agency has a cadre of spies in China, just as China has long deployed its own intelligence operatives into the United States to steal political, economic, military and industrial secrets.

In this case, said American officials, who discussed details of the operation only on the condition of anonymity because of the tense diplomacy surrounding the issue, the Chinese agents are undercover operatives with the Ministry of Public Security, China’s law enforcement branch charged with carrying out Operation Fox Hunt.

The campaign, a central element of Mr. Xi’s wider battle against corruption, has proved popular with the Chinese public. Since 2014, according to the Ministry of Public Security, more than 930 suspects have been repatriated, including more than 70 who have returned this year voluntarily, the ministry’s website reported in June. According to Chinese media accounts, teams of agents have been dispatched around the globe.

American officials said they had solid evidence that the Chinese agents — who are not in the United States on acknowledged government business, and most likely are entering on tourist or trade visasuse various strong-arm tactics to get fugitives to return. The harassment, which has included threats against family members in China, has intensified recently, officials said.

The officials declined to provide specific evidence of the activities of the agents.

The United States has its own history of sending operatives undercover to other nations — sometimes under orders to kidnap or kill. In the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the C.I.A. dispatched teams abroad to snatch Qaeda suspects and spirit them either to secret C.I.A prisons or hand them over to other governments for interrogation.

Neither China’s Ministry of Public Security nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to faxes requesting comment. But Chinese officials have often boasted about their global efforts to hunt economic fugitives, and the state news media has featured reports detailing the aims and successes of Operation Fox Hunt.

According to the Chinese news media, Beijing has sent scores of security agents abroad to “persuade” their targets to return home. Just how they accomplish their aims is unclear, and questions have been raised about why a number of suspects, presumably sitting on significant wealth abroad, have willingly returned to China.

Liu Dong, a director of Operation Fox Hunt, has said Chinese agents must comply with local laws abroad and that they depend on cooperation with the police in other countries, according to a news report last year. But in a telling admission, he added, “Our principle is thus: Whether or not there is an agreement in place, as long as there is information that there is a criminal suspect, we will chase them over there, we will take our work to them, anywhere.”

It is unclear whether the F.B.I. or the Department of Homeland Security has advocated within the Obama administration to have the Chinese agents expelled from the country, but the White House decision to have the State Department issue a warning to the Chinese government about the activities could be one initial step in the process.

The F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security are in charge of tracking the activities of foreign government agents inside the United States, and American officials said that both agencies had amassed evidence about the Chinese law enforcement agents by speaking to Chinese expatriates and by monitoring the agents themselves.

One American official acknowledged that Chinese agents had been trying to track down Ling Wancheng, a wealthy and politically connected businessman who fled to the United States last year and had been living in a lavish home he owns outside Sacramento. Should he seek political asylum, he could become one of the most damaging defectors in the history of the People’s Republic.

Chinese state news media published Interpol alerts in April for 100 people that Beijing described as its most-wanted fugitives worldwide. But experts who have studied the names raised doubts whether the listed men and women are truly the government’s top priority. Among the alleged fugitives, they said, are a former deputy mayor, employees of state-owned enterprises and a history professor, but few if any at the highest echelons of power.

American officials did not disclose the identities or numbers of those being sought by the Chinese in the United States. They are believed to be prominent expatriates, some sought for economic corruption and some for what the Chinese consider political crimes.

That reluctance reflects divisions with the Obama administration over how aggressive to publicly confront China on a number of security issues.

For instance, the White House has gone out of its way to avoid making any public accusations that the Chinese government ordered the computer attack on the Office of Personnel Management, which led to the theft of millions of classified personnel files of government workers and contractors. While James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, initially said that “you have to kind of salute the Chinese for what they did,” he avoided repeating that accusation when pressed again in public on the matter.

China and the United States do not have an extradition treaty, and State Department officials would not say whether the warning carried any threats of penalties. Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, declined to comment about the diplomatic warning but said that “generally speaking, foreign law enforcement agents are not permitted to operate within the United States without prior notification to the attorney general.”

It is a criminal offense, he said, “for an individual, other than a diplomatic or consular officer or attaché, to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign power without prior notification to the attorney general.”

Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said that “the United States is not a safe haven for fugitives from any nation.” But he added that if the United States was going to help China hunt down fugitives, Beijing must provide evidence to the Department of Justice.

Too often, he said, “China has not provided the evidence we have requested.

Steve Tsang, a senior fellow at the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, said the clandestine deployment of security agents in pursuit of Chinese abroad has a long pedigree under the Communist Party, which sees itself as wielding dominion over all Chinese people regardless of what passport they may hold. “The party believes if you’re of Chinese ancestry then you’re Chinese anyway, and if you don’t behave like one you’re a traitor,” he said.

Mr. Tsang said the agents’ methods of persuasion often relate to the person’s family back in China, ranging from subtle insinuations to explicit threats, including against children or grandchildren. “They can be very imaginative,” he said.

The agents are described as mostly young, highly skilled officers who have repeatedly undergone “rapid-fire deployment” since the campaign began last year.

Within 49 hours, they can make their arrest anywhere in the world,” said a report published last year on Chinese Police Net, a website run by the Ministry of Public Security.

Such official statements, while directed toward a domestic audience, have stirred concern overseas. That is because Chinese agents are barred from making arrests on foreign soil, including the top destinations for alleged fugitives: the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These and a number of other countries do not have extradition treaties with China.

China says it follows local laws overseas. But in December, two Chinese police officers were caught operating in Australia without the permission of local authorities, according to local news media reports that were confirmed by Australian officials. The officers had traveled to Melbourne from the northeast province of Shandong to pursue a Chinese citizen accused of bribery, the reports said.

Australian officials promptly summoned diplomats from the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, as well as in Beijing, to express their displeasure, according to a spokesman for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The government registered with China its deep concerns about this, making clear it was unacceptable,” said the spokesman, who added “the government has been assured by Chinese authorities that there would be no repeat of these actions.

Li Gongjing, a captain in the economic crime division of the Shanghai Public Security Bureau, explained the agents’ approach in an interview with Xinmin Weekly magazine last November.

“A fugitive is like a flying kite,” he said. “Even though he is abroad, the string is held in China. He can always be found through his family.”

Correction: August 16, 2015 
An earlier version of a capsule summary with this article rendered incorrectly the official name of the Chinese effort that uses covert agents in the United States to pressure expatriates to return home. It is Operation Fox Hunt, not Operation Fox.

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Daniel Maher poses for a photo for Reuters in Berkeley, California September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Noah …
 Exclusive - U.S. to China: Take back your undocumented immigrants
By Mark Hosenball and Tim Reid - September 11, 2015

WASHINGTON/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In early June, in cities across America, U.S. immigration agents arrested more than two dozen Chinese nationals with unfulfilled deportation orders, telling them that after years of delay, China was finally taking steps to provide the paperwork needed to expel them from the U.S.

But, not for the first time, China failed to provide the necessary documents, and three months later not one of those arrested has been deported, and many have been released from custody. They form part of a backlog of nearly 39,000 people Chinese nationals awaiting deportation for violating U.S. immigration laws, 900 of them classed as violent offenders, according to immigration officials.

The issue, which is likely to come up during a state visit to Washington later this month by Chinese President Xi Jinping, has further strained a U.S.-China relationship already frayed by tensions over economic policy, suspected Chinese cyber hacking and Beijing’s growing military assertiveness.

Meanwhile, China is pushing the U.S. on a different immigration issue: the return of Chinese citizens it says are fugitives from corruption investigations at home.

The June arrests, described by immigration lawyers, U.S. officials and some of the arrestees themselves, grew out of meetings aimed at speeding up a clogged process that has long frustrated the United States.

China has been extremely slow, U.S. immigration officials say, to provide the proof of citizenship necessary to send visa violators home. Some of the nearly 39,000 Chinese immigrants awaiting deportation have been under orders to leave for well over a decade, and the backlog continues to grow.

An apparent breakthrough came, officials say, at a March meeting in Beijing between Sarah Saldana, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Zheng Baigang, a top Chinese Public Security official. Their discussions produced a “memorandum of understanding,” agreed to by both countries, to help expedite the process.

In April, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson traveled to Beijing, where his Chinese counterparts "agreed to begin repatriation flights from the U.S. for Chinese nationals with final deportation orders," said DHS Press Secretary Marsha Catron.
 

Daniel Maher stands at the Ecology 
Center, where he works as recycling 
program director, in Berkeley …

As part of that agreement, two Chinese officials traveled to the U.S. to interview those arrested in the June sweep, along with more than 50 others on the deportation list, including many with criminal convictions in the United States. China promised their cases would be resolved quickly.

In the past, an ICE official said, China has explained delays by saying it can be difficult to verify citizenship, a process that might require visits to distant villages and towns.

But one U.S. official suggested another reason for the holdups: "They do not want these people back.”

A senior Obama administration official told Reuters, ahead of Xi's visit, that the U.S. would like to see China move on this issue. “We have made that very clear, and pressed them to do so," the official said.

SWEPT UP
One of the immigrants detained in the recent sweeps was Daniel Maher, who was arrested as he left for work from his San Francisco Bay area home on June 2. Four uniformed immigration officials pulled up behind his car, he said, shackled his wrists and legs and then drove him to a U.S. deportation office.

There, Maher says, he was searched along with 13 other Asian men and put into a prison jumpsuit. "We were told there was a 99.9 percent chance the travel documents were arriving to deport us to China," said Maher, who was born in Macau, a former colony of Portugal that became a special administrative region of China after Maher immigrated to the United States. "I was told I would need a jacket, because the plane would be cold."

But Maher, who was convicted of holding up a San Jose, California auto parts warehouse in the 1990s and served a six-year term before being ordered deported in 2000, has since been released.
 

Daniel Maher stands at the Ecology 
Center, where he works as recycling 
program director, in Berkeley …

In a statement provided to Reuters, ICE said Maher was let go on August 14 “after it became apparent the agency would not be able to obtain a travel document in the foreseeable future to carry out its repatriation.”

U.S. frustrations over the massive deportation backlog come as Beijing is pushing for more help in tracking down and repatriating dozens of alleged fugitives living in the U.S. who are wanted in China as part of a widespread crackdown on corruption dubbed Operation Fox Hunt.

Officials in the U.S. put distance between the two issues, saying there will be no ‘quid pro quo’ agreement to provide Operation Fox Hunt suspects in exchange for cooperation on immigration violators. But they acknowledged that there are parallel discussion on the matters.

China, however, sees the two subjects as tied. In a statement, China's Foreign Ministry said: "China believes that there should be no double standards when it comes to the issue of handling the repatriation of illegal immigrants," urging “support for China's efforts to fight corruption."

U.S. officials say they are not averse to cooperation on Operation Fox Hunt, but that despite requests, Beijing has failed to produce the kind of evidence of criminality needed under American law to support deportation.

There is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and China, and Western governments have long been reluctant to hand over suspects because of a lack of transparency and due process in China's judicial system. In the past, Chinese government officials convicted of corruption have sometimes been sentenced to death.

BRIEF COOPERATION
Anoop Prasad, a San Francisco immigration attorney who represented Maher and others arrested in the June sweeps, says the Northern California detainees were transferred to an ICE facility in Adelanto, California, about a week after their arrest. There, they were each interviewed by two Chinese officials during a brief moment of cooperation between the two countries on the matter. They were also each ordered to fill out applications for Chinese passports.

"Those interviewed were selected because ICE determined that there was a significant likelihood of their removal in the reasonably foreseeable future," an ICE spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters.

And although no paperwork has yet come, the spokesperson added, "ICE expects the Chinese will honor their commitment to issue travel documents for those individuals confirmed to be Chinese nationals."

ICE acknowledges, however, that the backlog has been caused largely because of Chinese failure to provide documents and proof of citizenship.

Prasad said he believes his clients are being used as pawns in international diplomatic negotiations between China and the U.S., with America looking for help to reduce the backlog, and China wanting help in hunting down its corrupt fugitive officials, although Prasad admits he has no proof of that.

Prasad also questions why Maher was targeted. Since his release from jail in 2000, the attorney says, Maher, who is now married with a family, has turned his life around, working full time since 2005 and keeping all supervision appointments with ICE for the past 15 years.

U.S. officials say the two Chinese officials who conducted the interviews returned home in August.
 
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By Jim Sciutto and Eugene Scott
  • U.S. officials charged Wednesday that the increase suggests China lacks concern for U.S. laws
  • U.S. diplomats warned China to stop using covert law enforcement agents on U.S. soil

Washington -- The number of Chinese government secret agents in the U.S. has spiked in the last several months and is now in the double digits, according to U.S. officials.
The agents are from the Ministry of Public Security, China's security service. 

U.S. officials charged Wednesday that the increase suggests China lacks concern for U.S. laws.
It would also not be surprising if there are Chinese law enforcement agents on the ground of whom the U.S. is not aware, officials said.

The agents enter the U.S. on tourist and business visas and do not report their presence to U.S. authorities as required by law, according to U.S. authorities. 
Placing a law enforcement official here without notifying American authorities is criminal, they said.

U.S. diplomats previously warned China to stop using covert law enforcement agents on U.S. soil. CNN reported that the agents pressure Chinese citizens to return to the country to face justice, often on corruption charges, United States officials confirmed to CNN. 

The agents have successfully coerced several Chinese nationals to return to China from the U.S., they said.
China said Monday that they are not violating a legal cooperation treaty between the U.S. and China, but that their government was simply fighting corruption under a program called Fox Hunt 2015.

"China's operation is legitimate and has been approved in bilateral agreements reached earlier this year," China said through Xinhua, its state news agency. 

" 'Fox Hunt 2015,' which targets corrupt officials of government departments and state-owned enterprises, is an important effort of China to crack down (on) corruption."