The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is reportedly recruiting spies to create fake business profiles on professional networking platform LinkedIn to identify targets and extract state secrets. According to a report in the Times, these spies are offering lucrative business opportunities to the targets, who are generally former government and private sector workers who have access to classified information.
In the process, highly sensitive information from other countries is being passed on the Chinese government without even the targets realizing it. So much so that many governments, including the UK, are planning to launch a campaign to warn its citizens of the new national security risks being posed by LinkedIn and opportunistic Chinese Communist Party assets.
A New Threat
The new threat to national security comes to light following a report in the Times, where a 56-year-old Phillip Ingram was made similar approaches by Chinese spies posing as a business associate. Ingram is a former colonel, who specializes in cyber intelligence work and has knowledge of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, and became an ideal target as he had access to classified government information.
Ingram, in his story shared with the media outlet, said that he one day received a connection request from someone on LinkedIn under the name Robin, who was Chinese businessman with links across the security industry in his profile. It was like many of the connections he used to receive. "There was nothing on his profile that suggested which company he worked for, just generics. That seemed odd," said Ingram.
"As the conversation continued Robin's requests became more concerning. He said that "we would want to get inside information that isn't easily accessible to anyone," he told the outlet.
Ingram soon realized that Robin was asking for more. When Ingram asked further Robin said: "You can guess the sort of stuff I'm after."
Escaping the Trap
Ingram isn't the only person who was being targeted by CCP spies and now the British government feels that they may be a new mode to target and trap former government and private official with access to sensitive information. By the time Robin opened up more to Ingram, he was sure that the profile was fake and was being handled by a Chinese intelligence officer.
He was also offered a trip to China by Robin where he was required to carry classified report although Ingram insisted on meeting somewhere in London. His doubts were confirmed when Robin offered to switch to an encrypted email service that could not be accessed inside China except by intelligence services.
Following that Ingram received an email from Robin within the next 10 minutes. "At that stage I was 99.99 percent sure it was someone linked to the Chinese government," Ingram told the Times. "It was classic recruitment. If I'd decided to go to China they'd have sent me back to get other bits and pieces. They'd have effectively recruited an agent."
Needless to say, the actions are enough to raise suspicion about China and once again show the extent to which CCP can go to recruit foreign agents without even the knowledge of the targets. The revelations have now prompted the British government to start a campaign to inform the citizens about the new national security threat posed by Chinese intelligence agents who are using LinkedIn to access classified information.