German intelligence unmasks alleged covert Chinese social media profiles

Research finds more than 10,000 citizens were contacted via the LinkedIn professional networking site by fake profiles

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2017, 8:40pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 December, 2017, 8:40pm

Germany’s intelligence service has published the details of social network profiles which it said are fronts faked by Chinese intelligence to gather personal information about German officials and politicians.

The BfV domestic intelligence service took the unusual step of naming the profiles of individuals and organisations it said were fake to warn public officials about the risk of leaking valuable personal information via social media.

“Chinese intelligence services are active on networks like LinkedIn and have been trying for a while to extract information and find intelligence sources in this way,” including seeking data on users’ habits, hobbies and political interests, the service said.

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Nine months of research had found that more than 10,000 German citizens had been contacted on the LinkedIn professional networking site by fake profiles disguised as headhunters, consultants, think-tankers or scholars, the BfV said.

“There could be a large number of target individuals and fake profiles that have not yet been identified,” it said.

Among the spurious profiles whose details were published were that of “Rachel Li”, identified as a “headhunter” at “RiseHR”, and an “Alex Li”, a “Project Manager at the Centre for Sino-Europe Development Studies”.

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Many of the profile pictures show stylish and visually appealing young men and women. The picture of “Laeticia Chen”, a manager at the “China Centre of International Politics and Economy” was lifted from an online fashion catalogue, an official said.

A review of the profiles showed that some were connected to senior diplomats and politicians from several European countries. There was no way to establish whether contacts had taken place beyond the initial social media “add”.

The warning reflects growing concern in European and Western intelligence circles at Chinese covert activities in their countries and follows warnings from the US Central Intelligence Agency over attempts by the economic giant’s security services to recruit US citizens as agents.

The BfV invited concerned users to contact them if they encountered social media profiles that seemed suspect.