According to a report by the New York Times on November 14, private investigators in the U.S. are increasingly hired by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to target dissidents.

The FBI says most cases would assist China without full awareness. Over the past two years, complaints against private detectives have risen across different states, including New York, California, and Indiana.

Typically, they can provide a client with details about a person’s home, cellphones, Social Security number, and place of employment. But then, some ended up harassing, threatening, and attempting to repatriate legal U.S. citizens.

Private investigator Michael McMahon was arrested in the U.S. in 2020. He is accused of stalking, operating illegally as a CCP agent, and two counts of conspiracy. According to the prosecution, he was part of a scheme to force John Doe-1, a Chinese national living in New Jersey, to return to China.

McMahon is a retired New York Police Department sergeant. When he read the complaints against him, McMahon said he had no idea he was working for the CCP.

He writes in an email, “When I read the complaint against me. I became sick to my stomach. As my background shows, I committed my life to upholding the law and never have—and never would—commit a crime.”

According to the Times, private investigators nowadays find new contracts online, which makes it harder to verify who the real clients are.

McMahon said a woman contacted him through his website. She made him believe she was searching for someone in New Jersey who had embezzled money from a Chinese construction firm.

In New Jersey, he conducted surveillance on five different occasions in 2016 and 2017, reporting to the local police agencies each time he was parked outside a house.

Unbeknownst to McMahon, he was participating in a psychological scheme to force Doe-1 to repatriate back to China. Standing outside of the house was considered a harassment tactic.

His attorney, Lawrence Lustberg, “I have not seen one piece of evidence—not one—that Mike had any idea that he was in any way working for the CCP.”

The authorities said McMahon had been an integral part of Beijing’s Operation Fox Hunt, where it exports repression overseas.

Bruce Hoffman from the Council on Foreign Relations pointed out that hiring private investigators is cost-effective. 

He says, “It strikes me as low-cost, low-risk state-sponsored terrorism in the 21st century.”

According to the Times, China and Iran have employed this scheme. As a result, the FBI has been talking with professional groups to raise awareness about the issue.

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