- Officer had ‘secret’ security clearance as U.S. Army reservist
- U.S. says cop’s handlers were two officials at Chinese Embassy
A New York City police officer was charged by federal prosecutors with aiding the Chinese government’s surveillance of ethnic Tibetans living in the city.
Baimadajie Angwang, 33, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in China, was charged Monday with acting as an unregistered foreign agent, along with wire fraud, making false statements and obstruction of a national security background investigation by the U.S. Defense Department, according to a criminal complaint by Acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme, of the Eastern District of New York.
An investigation by the FBI showed Angwang, who works at the 111th Precinct in Queens, was “acting at the direction and control” of Chinese officials, reporting on the activities of ethnic Tibetans and others in the New York metropolitan area, according to the complaint. He also “spotted and assessed potential ethnic Tibetan intelligence sources” for China, the U.S. said.
“State and local officials should be aware that they are not immune to the threat of Chinese espionage,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. “The Chinese government recruited and directed a U.S. citizen and member of our nation’s largest law enforcement department to further its intelligence gathering and repression of Chinese abroad.”
Angwang has had a relationship since 2018 with two officials working at the Chinese consulate in New York, the U.S. said. One of the officials worked at the China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture, which prosecutors said was responsible for “neutralizing sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority” of China.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed the allegations as “entirely trumped-up.” “The attempts by the U.S. side to smear Chinese diplomatic missions in the U.S. will never succeed,” Wang told a regular briefing Tuesday in Beijing.
The People’s Republic of China asserted sovereignty over Tibet in 1951 as part of a broader effort by Mao Zedong’s communists to consolidate control over territory historically claimed by China before decades of colonialism, war and internal strife. The Dalai Lama fled to India with help from the Central Intelligence Agency to escape a government crackdown in 1959, and a Tibetan-independence movement has endured ever since.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann in Brooklyn ordered Angwang to remain in custody without bail after a video hearing on Monday. Angwang’s lawyer, John Carman, told the judge his client would “present a bail package in the near future.”
Angwang should remain in custody because he has “access to significant liquid financial assets,” mostly in China, that could help him flee, U.S. officials said. While his sole source of income is his police salary, prosecutors say he had made large and “extremely unusual and suspicious” transactions. He’s wired almost $200,000 from a U.S. bank to a Chinese account in his brother’s name, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors say Angwang, an ethnic Tibetan, got asylum in the U.S. after claiming he’d been arrested and tortured in China because of his ancestry. U.S. authorities now say those claims were false, based on Angwang’s numerous trips back to China since then.
U.S. authorities say their evidence includes recorded conversations of one Chinese official who has been Angwang’s “handler” and gave him “tasks” to perform. Angwang called and texted the second Chinese official’s mobile phone on at least 53 occasions between August 2014 and August 2017, U.S. officials said.
William Sweeney, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s New York office, which is investigated the case, called Angwang “an insider threat” who used his position in the NYPD to aid China. Angwang also is a sergeant with the U.S. Army Reserve and holds “secret” level security clearance because of his role with the Airborne Civil Affairs team at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where prosecutors say he assists in the planning and training of civil-military programs.
Angwang’s father is a retired member of the People’s Liberation Army in China and a Communist Party member, while his mother is a retired Chinese government official and party member, U.S. authorities said.
The U.S. also alleged that Angwang used his NYPD position in the police department to provide Chinese consulate officials access to senior police officials during department events. Angwang failed to notify the Attorney General that he was acting as an agent of the Chinese government, prosecutors said.
In his recorded conversations, Angwang “discussed his desire to further goals and objectives” of China, and once said he invited Chinese officials to police events in New York to “raise our country’s soft power.”
Angwang allegedly provided the names of Tibetan individuals, as well as groups of disenfranchised Tibetans “to recruit as potential intelligence sources,” including one Tibetan-American who had run for public office in another state, prosecutors said. Angwang also attended Tibetan community meetings and provided information about Chinese ethnic minority groups who “likely harbored” anti-Chinese views, prosecutors said.