It has been said many times and warrants saying again, China will never take its foot off the accelerator when it comes to nation state espionage, they are running full throttle, no brakes. The UK media is all abuzz with headlines on how an individual located in China over the course of five years used several personas on LinkedIn to engage and attempt to compromise individuals with access to information of interest. To readers of Clearance Jobs for the past ten years, that is a bit like saying “water is wet.”

LinkedIn is fertile hunting ground

For years the UK, U.S., Australia, Germany and other security services have been publishing their annual counterintelligence reports, studies and warnings highlighting the use of the “commercial recruiter” or “commercial consultant” ploy by China to entice the unsuspecting. To China’s credit, they are using the tools provided by LinkedIn to populate their targeting matrix. One need only review the case of Dickson Yeo (aka Jun Wei Yeo) a Singaporean now sitting in a U.S. prison for his work with the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) who used the LinkedIn algorithm to “aggressively target and build contact for Chinese intelligence.”

Most recently the UK’s MI5 director general Ken McCallum called out how UK personnel with clearances were inviting illicit foreign contact through their provision of “TMI” (too much information” concerning their classified work and that the nation’s adversaries were active on LinkedIn harvesting and processing this information.

Recruiting sources – it’s espionage

The UK individual is credited with targeting “many”; Yeo’s court documents indicate he received over 400 resumes from interested individuals. Yeo went on to describe how he felt like he was addicted to LinkedIn, as every day their algorithm would suggest to him new potential targets for him to contact.

Then we have the case of U.S. citizen Kevin Mallory who was recruited via LinkedIn by “Richard Yang” who amazingly has a remarkably similar profile as the UK’s “Robin Zhang” and successfully induced Mallory to act on behalf of the MSS.  As is the case of Ron Rockwell Hansen who once recruited, via LinkedIn, used the social network to target others on behalf of the MSS.

Counterintelligence education is key

Education is the defense to China’s actions and this comes in the form of comprehensive counterintelligence briefings which include a do’s and don’ts of posting on social networks, as well as a review of the modus operandi of the MSS and others on their use of social networks, specifically LinkedIn to advance their targeting, assessing and ultimately recruiting individuals with clearances to provide classified information.

These educational programs should include the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) educational video, “The Evernight Connection.” The 30-minute film shares how China uses social networks and deception to lure in persons with access to sensitive information. The video was first published in 2020, and was shared widely, perhaps not widely enough.

As noted, China is moving at full speed.

Why does China persist in using LinkedIn? Because China continues to enjoy success using LinkedIn, which is both a klaxon to all conducting counterintelligence education programs that they need to step up their game. It is also ringing that same bell to the insider risk management teams that too they need to watch for those who know better but have decided that they are going to exchange their loyalty for a few pieces of silver.

Related News

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of