Iran and China are becoming increasingly brazen in their attempts to silence dissidents on American soil and influence US policy, the FBI warned 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 US 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.
The most brazen case of attempts to silence Iranian dissidents were two plots uncovered by US law enforcement against the prominent Iranian dissident and activist Masih Alinejad living in New York City in 2021 and 2022.
The Justice department announced in July 2021 that the FBI had foiled an attempt by Iranian intelligence to kidnap her, although it did not identify her by name. Later, Alinejad told the media that she was the person targeted.
Earlier this month, a federal court in New York sentenced Niloufar Bahadorifar, an Iranian-American woman, who had pleaded guilty in the plot to kidnap Alinejad.
The plan reportedly involved kidnapping her and taking her to Venezuela by speed boat, apparently to be sent back to Iran and executed like other kidnapped dissidents.
“A lot of these are new tactics and lines that are being crossed that we have not seen China and Iran do on US 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.
Iranian intelligence extensively operates also in Europe, where serious threats against journalists detected by British police last November led to the temporary closure of Iran International’s London broadcasting center and moving operations to Washington DC.
Officials said the goals of transnational repression schemes are multifaceted, and at times also aim to influence US 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 US 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.
Source » iranintl