Chief US spy catcher says China using LinkedIn to recruit Americans

Small toy figures are seen between displayed US flag and Linkedin logo in this illustration picture, August 30, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 31 August 2018
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Chief US spy catcher says China using LinkedIn to recruit Americans

  • German and British authorities have previously warned their citizens that Beijing is using LinkedIn to try to recruit them as spies
  • It is highly unusual for a senior US intelligence official to single out an American-owned company by name and publicly recommend it take action

WASHINGTON: The United States’ top spy catcher said Chinese espionage agencies are using fake LinkedIn accounts to try to recruit Americans with access to government and commercial secrets, and the company should shut them down.
William Evanina, the US counter-intelligence chief, told Reuters in an interview that intelligence and law enforcement officials have told LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft Corp., about China’s “super aggressive” efforts on the site.
He said the Chinese campaign includes contacting thousands of LinkedIn members at a time, but he declined to say how many fake accounts US intelligence had discovered, how many Americans may have been contacted and how much success China has had in the recruitment drive.
German and British authorities have previously warned their citizens that Beijing is using LinkedIn to try to recruit them as spies. But this is the first time a US official has publicly discussed the challenge in the United States and indicated it is a bigger problem than previously known.
Evanina said LinkedIn should look at copying the response of Twitter, Google and Facebook, which have all purged fake accounts allegedly linked to Iranian and Russian intelligence agencies.
“I recently saw that Twitter is canceling, I don’t know, millions of fake accounts, and our request would be maybe LinkedIn could go ahead and be part of that,” said Evanina, who heads the US National Counter-Intelligence and Security Center.
It is highly unusual for a senior US intelligence official to single out an American-owned company by name and publicly recommend it take action. LinkedIn boasts 562 million users in more than 200 counties and territories, including 149 million US members.
Evanina did not, however, say whether he was frustrated by LinkedIn’s response or whether he believes it has done enough.
LinkedIn’s head of trust and safety, Paul Rockwell, confirmed the company had been talking to US law enforcement agencies about Chinese espionage efforts. Earlier this month, LinkedIn said it had taken down “less than 40” fake accounts whose users were attempting to contact LinkedIn members associated with unidentified political organizations. Rockwell did not say whether those were Chinese accounts.
“We are doing everything we can to identify and stop this activity,” Rockwell told Reuters. “We’ve never waited for requests to act and actively identify bad actors and remove bad accounts using information we uncover and intelligence from a variety of sources including government agencies.”
Rockwell declined to provide numbers of fake accounts associated with Chinese intelligence agencies. He said the company takes “very prompt action to restrict accounts and mitigate and stop any essential damage that can happen” but gave no details.
LinkedIn “is a victim here,” Evanina said. “I think the cautionary tale ... is, ‘You are going to be like Facebook. Do you want to be where Facebook was this past spring with congressional testimony, right?’” he said, referring to lawmakers’ questioning of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Russia’s use of Facebook to meddle in the 2016 US elections.
China’s foreign ministry disputed Evanina’s allegations.
“We do not know what evidence the relevant US officials you cite have to reach this conclusion. What they say is complete nonsense and has ulterior motives,” the ministry said in a statement.


Vietnam jails activist for anti-government posts on Facebook

Updated 25 September 2018
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Vietnam jails activist for anti-government posts on Facebook

  • The conviction comes as communist authorities step up a crackdown on dissent
  • Some 97 activists were in jail as of April this year, according to Amnesty International

HANOI, Vietnam: A court in southern Vietnam has sentenced an activist to 27 months in prison for Facebook posts that judges say insulted the ruling Communist Party and government and called for anti-government protests.
Doan Khanh Vinh Quang, 42, was convicted “abuse of democratic freedom to infringe on the legitimate interests of the state” by the People’s Court in Ninh Kieu District in Can Tho province after a one-day trial Monday, the Vietnam News Agency reported.
The agency quoted judges as saying Quang’s actions “actively abetted hostile and reactionary forces from inside and outside the country” who want to overthrow the party and government.
Court officials were not available for comment Tuesday.
The conviction comes as communist authorities step up a crackdown on dissent. Quang was third activist to be jailed in a week on similar charges.
On Saturday, Nguyen Hong Nguyen and Truong Dinh Khang, were convicted of insulting the Communist Party and its leaders, including late founding President Ho Chi Minh, and sentenced to two years and one year respectively in separate cases in Can Tho province.
Despite sweeping economic reforms over the past 30 years that opened Vietnam to foreign investment and trade that made it one of fastest growing economies in the region, the Communist Party tolerates no challenge to its one-party rule.
Some Western governments and international human rights groups criticize Vietnam for jailing people for peacefully expressing their views. Hanoi says only lawbreakers are put behind bars.
Some 97 activists were in jail as of April this year, according to Amnesty International.