The Chinese Communist government has been caught operating approximately 100 overseas police stations in at least 53 countries—including at least seven illegal police stations throughout the United States.

If it sounds shocking, it’s because it is. A foreign adversary, intent on exerting its influence throughout the world and undermining the United States’ position as the world’s preeminent superpower, covertly set up shop in the United States—with the help of American citizens—to enforce its own laws on Chinese nationals in the United States.

This goes beyond traditional spying, where information gathering is the primary purpose, and veers into the actual attempted enforcement of China’s edicts—within the United States.

Given this egregious conduct, the U.S. Justice Department charged two U.S. citizens with conspiring to act as unregistered agents of the People’s Republic of China.

The government alleges that under the guise of a civic organization serving those of Chinese descent in New York City, Lu Jianwang (aka Harry Lu) and Chen Jinping instead established and operated an unofficial overseas police station on behalf of the Fuzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau, which is a provincial branch of China’s Ministry of Public Security.

The FBI’s affidavit in the case makes clear: “Although the [Ministry of Public Security] is generally identified as the [People’s Republic of China’s] primary domestic law enforcement agency—responsible for public safety, general criminal investigation, national security and internet security—its mission extends beyond law enforcement and into functions more associated with an intelligence service.”

In particular, it has a reputation for harassing and attempting to repatriate its citizens who have been critical of the Chinese government. And that appears to have been a key focus of these overseas police stations.

Interestingly, Jianwang and Jinping have been charged under what some have termed an “espionage lite” statute. They have been charged with violating (or technically, conspiring to violate) 18 U.S.C. §951(a), which says:

Whoever, other than a diplomatic or consular officer or attaché, acts in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General [as required by rules and regulation promulgated by the Attorney General], shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

The U.S. government has also charged both men with obstruction of justice. The men have not been charged under actual espionage-related statues, nor have they been charged with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act. As several lawyers who have looked at these two statutes explain, “FARA and Section 951 may share the broad goal of limiting covert foreign malign influence in the United States, but they take different tacks to accomplish this goal.”

While FARA primarily focuses on disclosure of certain activities (typically those designed to exert influence), “Section 951, on the other hand, is a more traditional criminal statute that directly prohibits taking certain undisclosed actions on behalf of foreign governments,” they said. Here, those actions include operating the unauthorized police stations in New York City on behalf of the Fuzhou Municipal Public Security Bureau.

The government also alleges that since “in or about 2015, [Jianwang] has assisted the PRC government by participating in counterprotests in Washington, D.C., against members of a religion that is forbidden under PRC law and helping locate persons of interest to the PRC government.” PRC is the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

Both men are accused of deleting or destroying evidence to cover up their crimes and to obstruct justice.

Despite the troubling allegations, these two men—like all criminal defendants—are presumed to be innocent unless and until convicted by a jury of their peers after the government has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt (or they’ve pled guilty).

A conviction, though, is not a foregone conclusion. After all, the Biden administration has struggled to prove these types of cases. For example, a Brooklyn jury acquitted former Trump adviser Tom Barrack and his assistant of violating Section 951 for acting as unregistered agents of the United Arab Emirates in a prosecution that grew out of Robert S. Mueller’s special counsel work in the so-called Trump-Russia investigation. Some have suggested the prosecution in that case used an expansive and overly aggressive interpretation of Section 951.

The Biden administration also unceremoniously dismissed the case against New York Police Department officer Baimadajie Angwang, who had been charged with violating Section 951(a) for acting as an unregistered agent of the Chinese government, among other crimes. At the time of Angwang’s arrest, The New York Times reported that “the head of New York’s F.B.I. office called him ‘the definition of an insider threat’” to our country’s security.

The government alleged that Angwang provided information to, and worked at the direction of, two Chinese consular officials in New York City. At the time of his arrest, Angwang, a naturalized U.S. citizen who is originally from Tibet, worked for the NYPD and was in the U.S. Army Reserve, having previously served in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan.

The government dropped the case in January, more than two years after Angwang’s arrest, after reviewing the evidence in the case “holistically.” The government chose not to elaborate what it meant by holistically. Much of the evidence in that case remains shrouded in mystery—even to Angwang and his attorney—because of the national security implications and the classified nature of some of the information.

Regardless, China’s brazen establishment of illegal overseas police stations within the United States calls for those participating in this scheme to be prosecuted and for Congress and intelligence officials to thoroughly evaluate how else China might be covertly trying to exert its influence within the United States.

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