Singapore man sentenced to prison for spying for China in US
WASHINGTON (AP) - A Singapore man was sentenced Friday to 14 months in prison for spying for divulging valuable but unclassified military and political information to the Chinese government that he accused Americans of giving him.
Jun Wei Yeo admitted to participating in an elaborate ruse led by Chinese intelligence officials to recruit unsuspecting US government officials to write reports that he would send to clients in Asia. The reports were instead forwarded to the Chinese government as part of China's broader efforts alleged by the Trump administration to steal American secrets, including cutting-edge research, for Beijing's economic gain.
Prosecutors allege that Yeo, also known as Dickson Yeo, was motivated not only by greed - he was paid for his work - but also by a shared desire by the Chinese Communist government to undermine the global reputation of the United States. According to the Justice Department, over the course of several years he passed reports of a military aircraft program, the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan and a cabinet member who was not named in court records.
"It was not a one-off bad decision that we are talking about here," said US assistant lawyer Erik Kenerson. The prosecutor said Yeo was "working for a hostile power on our soil, collecting non-public information of interest to that power."
The Justice Department believes Yeo was arrested before he could obtain classified information, although prosecutors say he is preparing to obtain some before being taken into custody.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s 14-month sentence during a virtual hearing in Washington was two months shorter than the prosecutor’s recommended sentence, taking into account Yeo's collaboration with the government, as well as the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the US prison system.
Yeo, who was arrested in November 2019 after an interview with the FBI, is receiving credit for the prison term he has already served, which means he should be released in a few weeks. He will be deported after the end of his sentence.
Yeo said he was eager to return to his family in Singapore. "I take full responsibility for what I've done," said Yeo.
"I understand China's position," he told the judge, "but I had no intention of harming anyone."
Yeo was a graduate student at a Singapore university when prosecutors said he was recruited by intelligence officials after a trip to Beijing in 2015 to give a talk on the political situation in Southeast Asia.
He claims he worked under the activists' direction for the next several years, inventing a fake consulting firm sharing his name with a well-known U.S. consulting firm and using a professional networking site to target and recruit Americans whose jobs he is they believed possible access to information that China could use to its advantage.
He has also promoted fake job postings and collected hundreds of résumés from potential applicants, most of whom were military and government employees, according to prosecutors. He passed the promising résumés on to a Chinese trader.
One of his recruits, a civilian who worked for the Air Force with a high-level security clearance, provided information on the impact of Japanese purchases of military aircraft from the United States, which Yeo then converted into a report for his Chinese intelligence contacts. Another recruit, a State Department official who prosecutors confided in feeling dissatisfied at work and having financial problems, wrote a report on a cabinet member on Yeo’s orders, court documents say.
Prosecutors said they had applied for a tougher sentence for Yeo, who pleaded guilty to acting as an agent of a foreign government, but for his cooperation. He was approached by the FBI at an airport last November, and although he initially declined an interview request and made his way to board his flight, he changed his mind and returned to the agents to consent to questioning.
"Mr. Yeo, while free to leave the United States, agreed to work with the United States and, within hours, was completely honest with the government about what was going on," said Michelle Peterson, his Federal defender.
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