The Chinese regime spy who used LinkedIn to steal British state secrets

Chinese head of state Xi Jinping speaks during the BRICS Summit 2023 at the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 23, 2023. His regime is responsible for espionage in the UK (Reuters) (POOL /)

A Chinese spy has turned to the professional social network LinkedIn in order to attract and convince thousands of officials of the United Kingdom to be provided with state secrets, promising in return juicy sums of money and attractive businessesas reported The Times.

The investigation by the English newspaper reveals that this intelligence officer, belonging to the main spy agency of Beijing, has adopted multiple false identities and established various shell companies. Its strategy has been to target especially security officials, public employees, scientists and academics who handle classified information or technologies of high commercial value.

It is thought that robin zhanghis alias more recurring, he could be the most active spy for an opposing nation in recent times, and he acts against British interests. With a twist: most of your operations are done from a desktopprobably in the facilities of the Chinese Ministry of State Security in the Chinese capital.

For five years, Zhang has worked on a large scale, using LinkedIn as the main tool to approach British and Western officials. The journalist’s investigation Fiona Hamilton has discovered several profiles of the Chinese agent on this social network, which has some 930 million users. Zhang he has created bogus websites and security companies to bolster his legitimacy, and has even gone so far as to claim that he is a former student of a prestigious London university.

By reaching out to officials from key areas such as the military, science, technology and politics, Zhang I was looking to establish ties. He reportedly offered a recruiter £8,000 each time she provided him with details of an intelligence candidate and promised large sums to a former military intelligence officer in exchange for information on British anti-terrorism actions. Others were seduced with the promise of paid trips to China and the opportunity to join lucrative conferences.

The actual identity of Zhang it cannot be published to protect the identity of Western spies. However, The Times reports that he has used various pseudonyms, such as Zhang, Eric Chen Yixi, robin cao, lincoln lam, John Lee and Eric Kim. Claims to be associated with security companies based in shanghai and uses stock images or images of innocent people for their profiles.

Tom TugendhatMinister of Security, has warned about the Chinese intelligence tactic of using LinkedIn to reach out to the British, stating that not only government employees, but also companies with valuable information and academics, should be on the lookout. Intelligence authorities have repeatedly pointed out that China uses espionage to undermine the technology and research of the United Kingdom, seeking to reduce its commercial advantages. Two years ago, the MI5 released “Think Before You Link” (Think before you link) to raise awareness about the risks of state actors online.

Initially, Zhang it targeted defense contractors, officials and sensitive business areas. Subsequently, he turned his attention to think tank and academics, who often underestimate the value of the information they possess.

Robin Zhang, a Chinese spy who recruited British officials through LinkedIn (LinkedIn)
The photograph used by the Chinese spy who recruited British officials through LinkedIn and said his name was Robing Zhang (LinkedIn)

Although the techniques of Zhang they were basic, they worked because many did not perform verifications, even when they came from sensitive areas such as defense and politics. Many gave in to flattery or were lured in by the money supply. One of the sources described Zhang as “cheeky and arrogant”, offering money in exchange for sensitive information on bilateral relations with China. Another source became suspicious when Zhang he offered him between £6,000 and £8,000 for information on an intelligence candidate.

The techniques of Zhang they are especially effective because they are carried out on a large scale. His goal is that, eventually, the targets travel to Chinawhere they could be pressured to reveal even more. Zhang used stock footage, or even actual photos of innocent people, to design profiles of LinkedIn and send unsolicited job offers. He posed as an employee Hujie Security Servicesa true signature of shanghai, but also invented other companies. When searching for these companies on Google, the results often lead to empty websites with no content other than a home page.

Zhang He would present himself as a security or contracting professional and offer attractive financial offers, conference invitations or business proposals in search of attracting his target. Once first contact was established, he would lead his targets into wechat, the popular Chinese social network. There, he would introduce them to so-called high-level colleagues, possibly just other aliases under his control.

The interesting thing is how Zhang requested information. It started with benign requests related to the target’s specialty, but soon escalated to requests for sensitive information.. Furthermore, the spy had an obsession with official sources and wanted original documents to ensure his authenticity.

The Times discovered that the photograph used by Zhang in your profile LinkedIn he was in other places, representing various identities, from professors to lawyers. Another discovered alias is Eric Chenwho worked for a non-existent DAS Security. Curiously, there is a DAS Security legitimate in hangzhoubut it seems to be just a coincidence.

Martin Thorleyanalyst specializing in the region of Asia and the Peacefulattributes these tactics to the “target culture” in China. The pressure to achieve goals could lead to carelessness and over-focusing on results without paying attention to detail.

charlie partonformer diplomat in Chinadescribes the use of LinkedIn by spies like casting a net and seeing what you catch. The platform is a gold mine for spies due to the amount of personal and professional information users often post.. The mssa Chinese spy agency, can use the platform to filter and locate potential targets, then carry out operations against the most vulnerable.

Although it is difficult to quantify the success of Zhangreports suggest that China it has managed to infiltrate various sectors of the British economy, including attempts to place assets within the British security services. He MI5 issued alerts about possible infiltration attempts, and LinkedIn has taken action against fake profiles, though Zhang continues to operate under multiple aliases.

The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alice Kearnspointed out that China actively seeks to undermine Britain and has warned about espionage tactics. LinkedIn condemned the creation of fake accounts and has intensified its efforts to identify and remove state-sponsored profiles. Kearns declared to Times Radio that she had not been contacted by agents such as Zhangbut what was “absolutely certain that hostile states are on my trail and are trying to undermine me and make me feel threatened into keeping quiet about some of the heinous acts they are carrying out”.

British concern

In mid-July, the British government issued a report on the Chinese regime’s interest in British soil. “The United Kingdom is of significant interest to China in terms of espionage and interference, given our close relationship with the United States, our membership of international organizations, and the perception of the United Kingdom as an opinion maker.”, stated the Intelligence and Security Commission (ISC).

It is China’s global ambition to become a technological and economic superpower, on which other countries depend, that poses the greatest risk to the UK.”, he added. “China’s state intelligence apparatus – almost certainly the largest in the world, with hundreds of thousands of civilian intelligence agents – targets the UK and its interests prolifically and aggressively”.

The commission’s “China Report” looked at the threat to national security from China generally, and then specifically in relation to academia, industry and technology, and civilian nuclear power.

It concluded that China “attempts to influence elites and policy makers” and “acquire information and intellectual property through covert and overt methods.”

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