A Singaporean man pleaded guilty on Friday to acting under the direction of Chinese intelligence officials to obtain sensitive information from Americans, the US Justice Department said.
Yeo Jun Wei, also called Dickson Yeo, pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington, DC, to one count of acting within the United States as an illegal foreign agent.
Court documents said he used a fake political consultancy in the US as a front to collect information for Chinese intelligence, targeting American military and government employees with security clearances on professional networking social media sites.
Yeo would pay them to write reports which he said were meant for clients in Asia, but which were, in reality, sent without their knowledge to the Chinese government.
He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, and will be sentenced on Oct 9.
Yeo enrolled in 2015 as a PhD student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, where he researched China's framework of treatment for small states along its Belt and Road Initiative trajectory, according to the school's website.
He was recruited in 2015 by China intelligence operatives during a visit to Beijing, where he gave a presentation on the political situation in South-east Asia, court documents showed. In a "statement of facts" submitted to the court and signed by Yeo, he admitted to being fully aware that he was working for Chinese intelligence, meeting agents dozens of times and being given special treatment when he travelled to China.
"Although these operatives used pseudonyms in their interactions with Yeo, they were open about their affiliation with the PRC (People's Republic of China) government. One of the operatives told Yeo that he and his boss worked for the PRC's main intelligence unit," the statement read.
His Chinese handlers asked him to get non-public information about the US Commerce Department, artificial intelligence, and the US-China trade war, even instructing him to create a fake consulting company in 2018.
Yeo did as he was told, using the same name as a prominent US consulting firm that handles public and government relations. His LinkedIn profile page lists the company as Resolute Consulting.
He received more than 400 resumes, 90 per cent of which were from US military and government personnel with security clearances, and passed on resumes of interest to a Chinese intelligence operative.
Yeo eventually moved to Washington, DC, from January to July last year, where he attended multiple events at think-tanks to network and recruit more people to write reports.
He was arrested when he returned to the US last November to try to get a US Army officer working at the Pentagon to provide more confidential information.
Yeo's case comes amid worsening US-China relations, with accusations that Beijing runs espionage and trade-secret theft operations in the US high on the list of Washington's grievances.
"The Chinese government uses an array of duplicity to obtain sensitive information from unsuspecting Americans," said Assistant Attorney-General for National Security John Demers.
He added: "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."
FROM RECRUITMENT TO ARREST
Dickson Yeo, who is enrolled as a PhD student at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, travels to Beijing to give a presentation on South-east Asia politics. There, he gets recruited by Chinese intelligence operatives.
Yeo uses a professional networking website to contact and recruit a civilian working with the US Air Force on the F-35 fighter jet programme. The civilian writes a report for Yeo and gives him information on the geopolitical implications of Japan purchasing F-35 aircraft from the US.
Yeo creates a fake consulting company to harvest resumes from US military and government employees with access to sensitive information.
BETWEEN 2018 TO 2019:
Yeo recruits a US State Department employee and pays him to write a report about an unnamed member of the US Cabinet.
JANUARY TO JULY 2019
He moves to Washington DC to network with people and try to recruit them. His LinkedIn profile lists him as a doctoral fellow at the George Washington University during this time.
Yeo returns to the US to ask a US Army officer working at the Pentagon to provide classified information. He is stopped and arrested after landing at the airport.
JULY 24, 2020
Yeo pleads guilty to one charge of acting within the U S as an illegal agent of a foreign power.
OCT 9, 2020
Yeo's sentencing hearing is scheduled.