A Singaporean national pleaded guilty Friday to operating as a covert Chinese intelligence agent in the U.S. who recruited an Army officer and State Department and Pentagon officials as unwitting agents.
Jun Wei Yeo, also known as Dickson Yeo, wrote for several publications on Chinese affairs. He admitted in a court statement he worked secretly for China’s intelligence service in seeking to recruit U.S. government officials as spies and to supply information to Beijing.
Yeo worked under the direction of Chinese intelligence from 2015 until he was arrested in November, according to prosecutors.
“This case again highlights how [China’s] intelligence service is operating in our backyard, using proxies to spot and assess American citizens in a wide variety of spaces (aerospace, public policy, defense) to target and groom for theft of our intellectual property and classified national defense information,” said Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
According to a statement of facts submitted in court, Yeo sought “to obtain valuable non-public information from the United States.”
“Using the internet and various social media sites, Yeo worked to spot and assess Americans with access to valuable non-public information, including U.S. military and government employees with high-level security clearances,” the statement said.
Yeo did not reveal that the reports were for the Chinese government but said they were for “clients in Asia.”
Yeo was a visiting scholar at George Washington University’s Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliott School of international affairs from January 2019 to January 2020.
He also wrote numerous articles for online and print journals, including an article for the journal Breaking Defense in February 2019 headlined “The Middle Kingdom is Dead; Long Live a Global China.”
His LinkedIn page lists his employment as a consultant KWR International Inc. in New York and Singapore. The page said of his work that he is “still bridging North America with Beijing, Tokyo and South East Asia.
The statement said Yeo began working as a Chinese agent in 2015 while a doctoral student at the National University of Singapore during a visit to Beijing for a presentation he made.
“After his presentation, Yeo was recruited by various individuals who claimed to represent PRC-based think tanks,” the statement said.
“These individuals offered Yeo money in exchange for political reports and information. Yeo came to understand that at least four of these individuals were intelligence operatives for the PRC government.”
Yeo was asked to sign a contract with the People’s Liberation Army but continued to work for military intelligence and other spy services.
The case reveals Chinese intelligence operating methods. Yeo, according to investigators, was tasked to obtain non-public information including “scuttlebutt” regarding U.S. foreign and international affairs
During one meeting with Chinese spies, “Yeo was directed to obtain “non-public information about the U.S. Department of Commerce, artificial intelligence, and the ‘trade war’ between China and the United States.”
Information was passed to Chinese intelligence at several locations in China during up to 20 meetings.
“On more than one occasion, Yeo received the exact same tasking from all of his PRCIS contacts, leading Yeo to surmise that there is one central authority in Beijing that disseminates research questions to various components of” Chinese intelligence, the statement said.
Yeo gathered information for his work through the internet and social media to identify and recruit Americans to supply him with information.
He was also ordered by China in 2018 to set up a fake consulting firm and to post job listings for the company as a way to find agents. Some 400 people sent their resumes to him, 90% from “U.S. military and government personnel with security clearances.”
The resumes were sent to Chinese intelligence officers.
He also used an unnamed professional networking website to seek out agents for China.
The networking site then began an automated process to supply more names.
“According to Yeo, the website’s algorithm was relentless,” the statement said. “Yeo checked the professional networking website almost every day to review the new batch of potential contacts suggested to him by the site’s algorithm. Later, Yeo told U.S. law enforcement that it felt almost like an addiction.”
Many of the contacts were recruited to provide information and write reports — all with guidance from Chinese intelligence.
“Yeo successfully recruited multiple U.S. citizens to provide him with information,” the statement said.
Among those recruited was a civilian Air Force employee who worked on F-35B jets and who was in financial trouble, whom Yeo recruited to write reports for money, including information on the impact of Japan’s purchase of U.S. F-35 fighter jets. The U.S. government announced last week that Tokyo is buying more than 100 F-35s in a deal worth $23 billion.
A second person recruited by Yeo through social media was identified only as an Army officer at the Pentagon.
The officer “confided to Yeo that he was traumatized by his military tours in Afghanistan,” the statement said, noting that the officer wrote a report on the impact on China of the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. He was paid $2,000 for the report to his wife’s bank account.
The Chinese then directed Yeo to try to recruit the officer to provide classified information.
Yeo was arrested before he could make the recruitment pitch to the Army officer.
A third U.S. recruit was identified in the statement as a State Department employee who was described as “dissatisfied at work and was having financial troubles” and worried about his upcoming retirement.
The employee was then paid to write a report on a “then serving member of the U.S. Cabinet.”
The employee “feared that if officials at the Department of State discovered that he provided information to Yeo, it would jeopardize his retirement pension.” The employee was paid $1,000 or $2,000 for the report that did not identify the Cabinet member.
Yeo lived in the Washington area from January to July 2019 and spent time recruiting and assessing potential Chinese agents at organizations such as think tanks, lobbying firms and defense contractors.
Yeo also was directed not to communicate with Chinese intelligence in the United States over concerns his communications would be intercepted by the U.S. government.
One operative “instructed Yeo that, if Yeo must email them from the United States, he should do so from a local coffee shop,” the statement said. A second Chinese intelligence officer told Yeo not to take his phone or notebooks when traveling in the United States.
“This same operative gave Yeo a bank card so that Yeo could pay his American contacts for the information they provided,” the statement said, noting that Beijing spies contacted him through the Chinese encrypted messaging application WeChat, and multiple phones.
Yeo pleaded guilty to one count of acting illegally as an unreported foreign agent.
“Yeo has admitted that he accepted, conducted, and followed through on taskings for [People’s Republic of China Intelligence Service] operatives with a full appreciation of what he was doing,” the statement said.
The statement was signed by Yeo.
Yeo could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Michelle Peterson, did not return an email seeking comment.
Yeo also worked at the National Institute of Strategic Communication at Beijing University from June 2016 to January 2019, when he went to George Washington University.