Prosecutors unveiled charges Monday against a “troll farm” and Chinese nationals who worked with a Zoom employee to crash meetings with U.S.-based dissidents.
A “secret police station” in New York City run by the Chinese National Police as a base to harass Chinese dissidents living in the U.S. also worked with a troll farm and at least one employee at a U.S.-based company to disrupt online conversations and shut down video conferences, according to charges announced Monday by U.S. prosecutors from New York and Washington, D.C.
The secret police station—which posed as an outreach center established to help Chinese immigrants newly arrived in America—was closed last year after police identified the outfit operating out of Chinatown in lower Manhattan. The Justice Department and FBI announced Monday the arrest of two individuals who operated the station, along with a slew of charges against non-U.S.-based Chinese nationals operating online.
“Whether through these physical or virtual means, these crimes created real effects for victims in the United States, victims whose rights the Department of Justice is committed to protecting,” David Newman, DOJ principal deputy assistant attorney general for national security, said during the Monday press conference.
According to prosecutors, trolls working with the Chinese National Police would join online meetings, blasting loud music, making specific threats and otherwise disrupting the streams until the groups were forced to disband.
In at least one case, Chinese law enforcement allegedly worked directly with a Zoom employee to shut down video conferences.
Xinjiang Jin—also known as Julien Jin, the former Zoom employee who acted as a liaison between the company and the Chinese government—was charged in December 2020 with using his position to disrupt online meetings in remembrance of the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, in which the People’s Republic of China murdered hundreds of protesting citizens.
“In crashing and disrupting these online meetings, the NPS subjected these Chinese dissidents living here in the United States to the authoritarian rule of the PRC,” Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said. “That is unacceptable.”
Prosecutors announced charges Monday against an additional 10 Chinese nationals in connection with those incidents.
“This fact pattern … underscores the insider threat risk facing any U.S. company that does business in China and has employees based in China,” Newman said.
U.S. attorneys also announced charges against 34 Chinese nationals—all working for the National Police’s 912 Special Projects Working Group—as part of a troll farm operating on social media platforms to track and harass dissidents and drown out criticisms of the Chinese government with propaganda and disinformation.
“Among other items, the official PRC disinformation suggested the weakness of U.S. democracy and foreign policy; sought to sow political divisions in U.S. national elections; and conveyed conspiracy theories regarding the U.S. government’s alleged responsibility for the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Peace said.
“It shows the PRC’s efforts to globalize the oppressive tactics used domestically in China to silence dissent,” Newman said.