Given the comprehensiveness of the persecution in China, it is not surprising that the Falun Gong are closely monitored there. What some have found more shocking, however, is the scale of surveillance beyond China’s borders.
A problem dating back to the cold war, Chinese spying for the purpose of stealing military and technological secrets is increasingly troubling American and European security officials. Recent media reports, for instance, have revealed a Chinese spy within the U.S. Department of Defense, and Chinese hackers are reported to have breached Pentagon computer systems, as well as government networks in Germany.
But Chinese spying goes beyond government information – the People’s Republic has an international network of spies that monitors groups, especially those known as “the five poisons”: democracy activists, Uighur Muslims, Tibetans, Taiwan independence supporters, and the Falun Gong.
According to a leaked Chinese Communist Party document, in October 2000, China’s top leader Jiang Zemin gave orders to “intensify the struggle” against Falun Gong outside of China, including through hiked surveillance.
Because of its secretive nature, the full depth of Communist Party spy infiltration remains unknown, but the espionage activities of the following agents have already been exposed: embassy and consulate staff, university student organization leaders, spies posing as Falun Gong practitioners, and Xinhua journalists working in leading Western newspapers.
The tapping of cell phones, the breaking into email accounts, and the planting of spyware through email attachments are so common that nearly every active Falun Gong practitioner overseas has first-hand evidence of being spied on.
One surprisingly typical example is that of Dr. Sen Nieh, who reported that his private conversations were somehow recorded and then played back to him on his answering machine when he returned home, supposedly as a form of intimidation (Washington Post 2001, freedom under attack).
One Infocenter researcher, for instance, had his “secure” email broken into from distinct unknown IP addresses for months. As no changing of passwords or switching computers could stop it, the hacking continued on a daily basis (interestingly, excluding weekends) until the account had to be shut down.
Break-ins are not limited to the virtual type. One salient example is that of Falun Gong spokeswoman Gail Rachlin, whose Manhattan apartment was broken into five times over the first several years of the persecution (her apartment had never been broken into previously). The only things taken were her address book, tax information, and Falun Gong-related materials.
In 2005, Chen Yonglin, the former first secretary and consul for Political Affairs at the Chinese Consulate-General of Sydney, made headlines when he dramatically defected and revealed that the People’s Republic operates a network of about 1,000 spies in Australia alone. Chen disclosed how his consulate duties included monitoring the Falun Gong, as well as groups such as Chinese democracy activists.
Immediately following Chen’s defection, Hao Fengjun, a policeman who had worked in the secret 6-10 Office [link to page about 6-10], defected as well, exposing how information from overseas monitoring was being sent back to China. “Falun Gong practitioners all over the world are under CCP surveillance,” Hao said. “I personally received intelligence information about Falun Gong practitioners in Australia, the United States, and Canada,” he said, naming specific individuals (http://en.epochtimes.com/news/5-6-19/29645.html).
A 2004 Taipei Times report tells of a suspected spy arrested in Taiwan. The man collected information about Falun Gong practitioners while working as a cab driver. Using his information, Party authorities blacklisted many Taiwanese Falun Gong adherents, later barring them from entering China and even Hong Kong. (http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2004/09/16/2003203087)
On the inside
Perhaps the most common tactic used by Party spies overseas is infiltrating a group by posing as enthusiastic members. This was a tactic used domestically to gather information about the Falun Gong in the summer of 1999 as the Party prepared to launch its persecution.
These agents often play the dual role of gathering information about individuals or planned activities on the one hand, and attempting to sow discord within overseas Falun Gong communities on the other. The ultimate goal, as the former Hao put it, is to “develop strategies and policies to dissolve the Falun Gong group internationally, eventually eliminating the group.” (http://en.epochtimes.com/news/5-6-19/29645.html)
Falun Gong adherents who have returned to China since 1999 have reported that after they arrive local police will contact them for “a friendly chat.” During these conversations the officers ultimately ask (using persuasion methods ranging from bribery to threats) that after they return overseas the individuals provide periodical “reports about the situation” (qing bao) in the alleged service of the motherland.
While Party espionage takes many forms, one final type brought to light since 2007 is the infiltration of student organizations. Ostensibly created for facilitating acclimation and cultural exchange, Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) groups in America and Europe work closely with their embassies and consulates. They spy on classmates, lobby foreign governments, and disrupt campus activities about rights abuses in China. Former CSSA presidents have testified that these student groups basically serve as overseas front organizations for the Party. (Infocenter release: http://www.faluninfo.net/DisplayAnArticlePrint.asp?ID=9498, WOIPFG report: http://zhuichaguoji.org/en/index2.php?option=content&task=view&id=172&pop=1&page=0)
In 2004, U.S. House of Representative passed Resolution 304, condemning CCP persecution of the Falun Gong both in China and the United States. The resolution [http://faluninfo.net/displayAnArticle.asp?ID=8962) documents cases of harassment, surveillance, break-ins, and threats against the Falun Gong such as the ones given here. http://www.faluninfo.net/article/531/
The resolution calls upon the U.S. president to publicly protest and the attorney general to investigate. But while the FBI has been compiling evidence about these activities, unlike the uproar over the stealing of military secrets, the international outcry over this form of espionage remains muted, allowing it to continue fairly unchecked.