By Sarah N. Lynch and Michael Martina
WASHINGTON, April 19 (Reuters) – China and Iran are becoming increasingly brazen in their attempts to silence dissidents on American soil and influence U.S. policy, the FBI warned on Wednesday.
In a news briefing with reporters about transnational repression, FBI counterintelligence officials urged victims to come forward, saying the bureau is tracking a growing trend of foreign authoritarian regimes breaching U.S. laws to intimidate certain communities.
The officials said the governments have at times resorted to using private investigators to conduct surveillance on dissidents and that several criminal cases have been brought by federal prosecutors involving their use.
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“A lot of these are new tactics and lines that are being crossed that we have not seen China and Iran do on U.S. soil in previous investigations,” one FBI counterintelligence official said. He added that the FBI hoped to raise awareness of such trends and alert the private investigator sector and state and local law enforcement.
Officials said the goals of transnational repression schemes are multifaceted, and at times also aim to influence U.S. policy decisions through “malign influence tactics.”
“We’ve really seen an inflection point in the tactics and tools, and the level of risk and the level of threat that have changed over the past few years,” another FBI counterintelligence official said.
The call with reporters on Wednesday came just two days after federal agents arrested two New York residents for allegedly operating a Chinese “secret police station” in Manhattan’s Chinatown district, in what prosecutors said is part of a broader U.S. government crackdown on Beijing’s alleged targeting of dissidents.
Safeguard Defenders, a Europe-based human rights organization, has published reports in recent months revealing the presence of dozens of Chinese police “service stations” in major cities around the world, including in New York and Los Angeles.
FBI officials declined to comment on the New York case or speak about any other open investigations.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Michael Martina in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis)