German intelligence has accused China of using LinkedIn and other social media sites to infiltrate the German government, according to a new report.
The German intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, released the results of its investigation Sunday. It charged the Chinese with targeting more than 10,000 citizens, including lawmakers and government employees, with social media.
The German investigation stated the Chinese would pose as headhunters and think-tank leaders, promising all-expense-paid trips to China and meetings with important clients.
LinkedIn, which is conducting its own investigation of the matter, stated it would deactivate the accounts of the spies identified by German intelligence, although it did not specify the number. LinkedIn is one of the few major social media companies operating in China, a restrictive country that has bans on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
The Chinese government denied the allegations, the New York Times reports:
In Beijing on Monday, Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the investigation "complete hearsay and groundless." He urged German officials to "speak and act more responsibly."
The German investigation added to anxieties in Western countries about Chinese efforts to infiltrate foreign governments and businesses, in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage, especially on economic and foreign policy issues. The United States has accused China of rampant economic espionage. Australia is debating tougher laws to guard against foreign interference, amid reports that China is meddling in Australian universities and elections.
German officials said that Chinese agents had created fake profiles in hopes of "gleaning information and recruiting sources" in Germany. Chinese agents approached targets by saying they were interested in exchanging information or offering to establish contact for them with an expert on China, German officials said.
Under the scheme described by German intelligence, Chinese agents used aliases like Eva Han on LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms. Some used photographs from fashion magazines as their profile pictures. Several listed fake company names.
German intelligence president Hans-Georg Maassen said the efforts constituted "a broad attempt to infiltrate Parliaments, ministries and administrations."
The Times reported the German government "has repeatedly warned in recent months that China is increasing its efforts to steal trade secrets and other sensitive information from European targets."