U.S. video conferences spied on at direction of China, report says

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By Chuck Ross
Daily Caller News Foundation

A Chinese national working for a U.S.-based tech company spied on video conference calls at the behest of China’s intelligence services, and shut down calls held to commemorate the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the U.S. government announced on Friday.

Justice Department officials said that Xinjiang Jin, also known as Julien Jin, collected information about the video platform users, some of whom were in the U.S., and provided it to China’s intelligence and law enforcement services.

Jin also had close contact with employees of the company, and communicated with the company’s chief operating officer, the complaint says.

The complaint, which was unsealed against Jin on Friday, does not identify the company, but says that it is headquartered in San Jose, Calif.

Details in the filing suggest that the company is Zoom Video Communications, Inc., a San Jose-based company that apologized earlier this year for shutting down video conference calls of Chinese dissidents.

The complaint refers to email address from a “.us” domain, which Zoom uses. The complaint also includes a screenshot of the company’s video conferencing interface, which appears to be the same one used by Zoom.

A spokesman for Zoom told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the company is reviewing the criminal complaint and will provide a statement later.

Jin, who remains in China, is charged with conspiracy to commit interstate harassment and unlawful conspiracy to transfer means of identification.

John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, said that the case shows that U.S. executives are at risk of being co-opted by the Chinese government when doing business with Beijing.

“No company with significant business interests in China is immune from the coercive power of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP],” Demers said in a statement.

The FBI put Jin on its “Most Wanted” list in November, saying that he worked “at the behest of the Chinese government’s intelligence and security services.”

Prosecutors allege that Jin worked as the chief liaison between the company and the Chinese government’s intelligence and law enforcement services.

“In that capacity, he regularly responded to requests from the [People’s Republic of China] government for information and to terminate video meetings hosted on Company-1’s video communications platform,” the Justice Department said in its announcement of charges against Jin.

According to the complaint, the Chinese government required the American company to install Jin as its liaison as part of a “rectification” plan that the company was forced to enter in order to continue doing business in China.

The complaint says that Chinese authorities blocked access to the company’s video conferences on Sept. 8, 2019. News outlets reported on Sept. 9, 2019, that Beijing had restricted access to Zoom.

The complaint says that the American company had to agree to ramp up its censorship and surveillance efforts in order to resume business in China.

The “rectification” plan required the company to “proactively monitor communications for content that included the expression of political views unacceptable to the PRC government,” the complaint says.

Jin’s Chinese government contacts tasked him with providing information about participants of the U.S. company’s video conferencing software, including names, email addresses and IP addresses, the complaint says.

He was also tasked with “proactively monitoring” the company’s video platform for meetings that the Chinese government considered to be “illegal.”

Jin also allegedly terminated at least four video meetings commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre at the behest of the Chinese government, the complaint says.

Jin and co-conspirators also infiltrated meetings in May and June 2020 where politically sensitive issues were being discussed. In order to shut down the meetings, Jin and his co-conspirators fabricated evidence that would violate the video platform’s terms of service, according to the complaint.

Jin would then use the fabricated evidence to compel the company to terminate the meetings and suspend the users’ accounts.

To carry out the scheme, Jin and his co-conspirators created fake email accounts in the users’ names, as well as fake profiles that suggested they supported terrorist groups like ISIS or distributing child pornography.

“The fabricated evidence falsely asserted that the meetings included discussions of child abuse or exploitation, terrorism, racism or incitements to violence,” the government said.

Chinese government authorities used information collected by Jin as part of an intimidation campaign against dissenters and their families in China, according to the complaint.

“PRC authorities temporarily detained at least one person who planned to speak during a commemoration meeting.”

In another incident, according to prosecutors, Chinese government agents visited the family members of a person who took part in the video meetings “and directed them to tell the participant to cease speaking out against the PRC government and rather to support socialism and the CCP.”

This story originally was published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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