China rubbishes claims that its intelligence services use LinkedIn to gather information

The logo for LinkedIn shown in California, US.
The logo for LinkedIn shown in California, US. PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (REUTERS) - The Chinese Foreign Ministry has rubbished allegations by Germany's intelligence service that Chinese intelligence uses social network profiles to gather information about German officials and politicians.

Speaking at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday (Dec 11), Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the accusations were baseless.

"We hope the relevant German organisations, particularly government departments, can speak and act more responsibly, and not do things that are not beneficial to the development of bilateral relations," he said.

Germany's intelligence service had earlier published the details of social network profiles which it says were fronts faked by Chinese intelligence to gather personal information about German officials and politicians.

The BfV domestic intelligence service took the unusual step of naming individual profiles it says were fake and fake organisations to warn public officials about the risk of leaking valuable personal information via social media.

"Chinese intelligence services are active on networks like LinkedIn and have been trying for a while to extract information and find intelligence sources in this way," including seeking data on users' habits, hobbies and political interests, they said.

Nine months of research had found that more than 10,000 German citizens had been contacted on the LinkedIn professional networking site by fake profiles disguised as headhunters, consultants, think-tankers or scholars, the BfV said.

"There could be a large number of target individuals and fake profiles that have not yet been identified," they added.

Among the faked profiles whose details were published were that of "Rachel Li", identified as a "headhunter" at "RiseHR", and an "Alex Li", a "Project Manager at Center for Sino-Europe Development Studies".

Many of the profile pictures show stylish and visually appealing young men and women. The picture of "Laeticia Chen", a manager at the "China Center of International Politics and Economy" was nicked from an online fashion catalogue, an official said.

A Reuters review of the profiles showed that some were connected to senior diplomats and politicians from several European countries. There was no way to establish whether contacts had taken place beyond the initial social media "add".

The warning reflects growing concern in European and western intelligence circles at Chinese covert activities in their countries and follows warnings from the US Central Intelligence Agency over attempts by the economic giant's security services to recruit US citizens as agents.

The BfV invited concerned users to contact them if they encountered social media profiles that seemed suspect.