Chinese spies have used LinkedIn to find potential new US recruits with access to government or commercial secrets, it has been reported.
Academics, former government officials and diplomats are among the most sought after Chinese intelligence agents, who act as corporate headhunters to make contact in the first instance, reports show.
A former official from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who received LinkedIn messages from someone from an apparently Chinese headhunting company asking for a meeting in Beijing, was greeted instead by three middle-aged men who & # 39 ; great access to the Chinese system & # 39; offered for his research, The New York Times reports.
Academics, government officials, and diplomats are among the most sought after Chinese Chinese agents, who, according to business reports, act as corporate head-hunters to establish contact.
& # 39; The Chinese want to build these options with political, academic, and business elites & # 39 ;, said Jonas Parello-Plesner, the Danish official who reported the apparent recruitment attempt started via LinkedIn.
& # 39; Much of this thrives in the gray zone or the spectrum between the search for influence and interference or classical espionage, & # 39; he added.
The strategy has proven effective in the past. In 2018, Kevin Mallory, a former employee of the C.I.A. and Defense Intelligence Agency, was recruited by Chinese agents.
Mallory, a fluent Mandarin speaker, struggled financially when he was contacted via a LinkedIn message in February 2017 by a Chinese citizen posing as headhunter, according to court records and procedural documents.
The person, named Richard Yang, arranged a telephone conversation between Mallory and a man who claimed to work at a think tank in Shanghai.
In May 2017, five months after the official left his government job and just after he made a trip to China, someone named Robinson Zhang contacted LinkedIn. Zhang & # 39; s LinkedIn profile featured the Hong Kong skyline and identified himself as a public relations manager for a company called R&C Capital
During two consecutive trips to Shanghai, Mallory agreed to sell US defense secrets – sent via a special mobile device that he received. He was found guilty of espionage in 2018.
In another case, a former Obama foreign policy officer described his meeting with what seemed to be Chinese spies trying to recruit him.
In May 2017, five months after the official left his government job and just after he made a trip to China, someone named Robinson Zhang contacted LinkedIn.
Zhang & # 39; s LinkedIn profile characterized the Hong Kong skyline and he identified himself as a public relations manager for a company called R&C Capital.
& # 39; I am quite impressed with your resume and think you may be right for some opportunities, all of which are well paid, & # 39; Zhang wrote in a private message to the former Obama employee.
Despite the R&C Capital site designated as No. 68 Mody Road in Hong Kong, no company with that name exists and the employee has not met the apparent recruiter.
Intelligence services in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France have warned that foreign agents are approaching thousands of users on the site.
LinkedIn spokeswoman Nicole Leverich said the company proactively finds and removes fake accounts.
& # 39; We maintain our policy, which is very clear: creating a fake account or fraudulent activity with the intention of misleading or lying to our members is a violation of our terms of service & she said, CNBC reported.
This is not the first time that Chinese intelligence activities have been reported in the media.
Intelligence services in the United States, the UK, Germany and France have issued warnings that foreign agents are approaching thousands of users on the site
William Evanina, the US counter-intelligence chief, said in an interview last year that intelligence and law enforcement officials have warned LinkedIn about the & # 39; super aggressive & # 39; China's efforts on the site.
He said the Chinese campaign includes the inclusion of thousands of LinkedIn members at the same time, but he refused to say how many fake accounts that American intelligence services had discovered, or how many Americans might have been contacted and how much success China had in recruiting.
Evanina said LinkedIn should look at copying Twitter, Google and Facebook responses, which have removed all fake accounts reportedly associated with Iranian and Russian intelligence services.
& # 39; I recently saw that Twitter cancels, I don't know, millions of fake accounts, and our request could be that LinkedIn could continue and be part of it & # 39 ;, said Evanina, head of the US National Counter -information service and security Center.
LinkedIn says it has 575 million users in more than 200 provinces and territories, including more than 150 million US members.
In 2018, LinkedIn & # 39; s head of trust and security, Paul Rockwell, confirmed that the company had talked to US law enforcement agencies about Chinese espionage efforts.
& # 39; We are doing everything we can to identify and stop this activity & # 39 ;, Rockwell told Reuters.
& # 39; We have never waited for requests to take action and identify active actors and remove bad accounts using information we have discovered and information from various sources, including government agencies. & # 39;
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