The FBI raided a suspected outpost of Chinese police tucked away in New York City’s Chinatown last fall, seizing materials from one of the secretive operations for the first time known to the public, anonymous sources revealed to the New York Times.
The office was one node in a network of Chinese police outposts around the world that officials are increasingly worried about as a way for China to spy on foreign countries and keep tabs on its people abroad.
The Chinatown outpost was on the third floor of a six-story office building on a busy street, the Times reported. It was raided by FBI counterintelligence agents working on a criminal investigation with the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
In an email to American Military News, FBI spokesperson Martin Feely said the agency has “no comment or guidance to provide” on the reported raid.
At least 102 such outposts have been documented in 53 countries in recent months by the human rights group Safeguard Defenders. FBI Director Christopher Wray said in November that he’s “very concerned” about the outposts, which he called “police stations.”
“It’s a long-arm power to show their own citizens inside China that their government is so strong,” said Safeguard Defenders researcher Chen Yen-ting. “We have the power to reach globally, and even if you go out, you’re still under our control.”
The Chinese Embassy said “there is no need to make people nervous” about the so-called outposts, which it said are staffed by volunteers helping Chinese nationals with routine tasks like renewing their Chinese driver’s licenses, the Times reported.
But in Chinese state media, the Times found them referred to as “overseas police service centers” that are “collecting intelligence” and solving crimes for Chinese nationals without the help of local authorities.
A list of police outposts showed the addresses of Chinese restaurants and associations, the Times reported. Police outposts have been set up in Japan, Italy, France, Britain, Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic, among other countries, by at least four regions of China, according to the Times.