An exiled Chinese businessman with close ties to the government has begun revealing secrets about Beijing's intelligence operations after China pressured the official Voice of America radio to curtail a lengthy interview with him.
Four VOA employees were suspended last month after more than an hour of the radio's exclusive interview with billionaire businessman Guo Wengui exceeded a time limit imposed under radio rules.
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The four employees of the Chinese language radio division are now calling on Congress to investigate whether VOA managers gave in to pressure from China's government to shorten the Guo interview and as a result undermined the radio's integrity.
Sasha Gong, one of the four suspended employees and chief of VOA's Mandarin language service, says Congress should probe the matter.
"I would like the Congress to investigate if the management of the taxpayer-funded Voice of America caved in to the request and demand of the Chinese government. If so, what is the reason behind their decision?" she said.
A VOA spokesman defended the decision to cut off the interview after an hour based on the radio's practices limiting time devoted to live interviews.
"Pressure from the Chinese government played no role in any decision-making," said the spokesman, George Mackenzie. "VOA and the [parent organization Broadcasting Board of Governors] have decades-long histories of producing full fair and balanced journalism in the face of even the most extreme pressures."
VOA is the official U.S. government radio broadcaster providing news in 40 languages.
Critics have charged VOA is poorly managed and its news reports often are too friendly toward anti-democratic states such as China.
Guo has close ties to senior Chinese Communist Party leaders, including government ministers and Politburo members. In April, he began disclosing detailed information on what he says is corruption among senior Chinese leaders, along with details of Chinese intelligence activities.
The four employees charged in an open letter to Congress that "a series of arguments and debates" led VOA to halt the April 19 on-air interview with Guo after one hour and 19 minutes. They said said cutting off the interview "gravely damaged" the "integrity and credibility of VOA as a media outlet."
"Furthermore, as VOA is a federal entity, the U.S. government's integrity and credibility have been greatly damaged, too," they said. "Therefore, the U.S. national interests have been greatly undermined as well."
MacKenzie, the VOA spokesman, said decisions on handling the Guo interview were based on journalistic guidelines requiring verification, balance, and fairness that apply to all VOA's various language services.
"There was no input whatsoever from the U.S. government, nor would the firewall permit any such input," MacKenzie said, referring to limits of official U.S. government controls.
China, meanwhile, has taken steps to intimidate Guo's family members and the businessman himself who is said to be in hiding in New York.
Guo's knowledge of Chinese intelligence operations could provide an intelligence windfall for the CIA and FBI, based on his access to Ministry of State Security (MSS) operations overseas and in the United States.
Ma Jian, a former MSS vice minister who was imprisoned for corruption last year, recently surfaced in an online Chinese video charging that he was in the pay of Guo and that they shared information.
After the VOA curtailed his interview, Guo, who has claimed to be working with Chinese intelligence and security services, took to social media and began providing daily videos and reports revealing Chinese spying and other sub rosa activities.
Writing on Twitter under the name @KwokMiles, Guo recently disclosed that MSS operatives work closely with wealthy Chinese nationals like him who are tasked with funding and conducting intelligence operations on behalf of MSS.
For example, in the United States, Chinese surrogates have funded private investigators to spy on the offspring of high-ranking Chinese officials, many of whom are in the real estate business or attend American universities.
In an apparent bid to silence Guo, China detained two of his brothers. The brothers were eventually released and Guo said they had been tortured by authorities.
Additionally, Guo's wife and daughter currently have been allowed by Chinese authorities to visit him in New York but are required to return to China after 20 days where they can be used for political leverage against Guo.
Guo stated in one recent video that he fears his family is being used by the government to pressure him into silence or to force his return to China.
Guo also announced that he is offering $100 million to anyone who can produce evidence, such as bank records, revealing high-level corruption by Chinese officials.
In the portion of the VOA interview that aired, Guo dismissed the Interpol red notice as part of Chinese effort to silence him. China, he said, spent $60 million annually to arrange for Interpol to pick a Chinese national as its director. The current director is Meng Hongwei.
Guo said he has been in the United States since 2015 and holds several foreign passports. Asked about MSS activities, Guo said the ministry uses Chinese businessmen as agents called "commercial anchors" who assist MSS.
Ma Jian, the imprisoned MSS official, was in charge of directing his overseas business activities on behalf of the service, Guo said, adding that he has no formal relationship with MSS beyond the use of his business resources.
Guo also alleged he has information about corruption involving the family of Wang Qishan, the senior Party official in charge of President Xi Jinping's nationwide anti-corruption drive. Wang is a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the seven member collective dictatorship that rules China.
On Capitol Hill, committee aides said both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee are monitoring the issue.
A House committee spokesman said: "The Foreign Affairs Committee is aware of the matter and following it. Sadly, this appears to be one more example of the need for reform at VOA."
A Senate Republican aide added: "Since the reports first surfaced, we have been tracking the suspensions and are prepared to conduct further oversight if necessary."
Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.) is also looking into the matter, a spokesman said.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
According to the suspended VOA employees, Guo earlier this year contacted the radio and said he wanted to go public with details of corruption by senior Chinese officials.
The employees who signed the statement to Congress are Sasha Gong, Fred Wang, Huchen Zhang, and Robert Li. They have denied any wrongdoing and are asserting that VOA management is treating them unfairly over the Guo interview.
Days before the planned three-hour live interview on VOA, China issued an arrest warrant for Guo in Dalian, and then an Interpol "red notice" calling for Guo's detention, claiming he was wanted for unspecified bribery charges.
An official at China's embassy then called VOA on April 18 and demanded the radio cancel its upcoming interview with Guo.
VOA managers, including director Amanda Bennett and deputy director Sandy Sugawara, decided to limit the Guo interview to one hour and ordered it halted after the interview exceeded that limit.
A White House petition was set up May 18 calling on the U.S. government to protect Guo as a "whistleblower."
"Chinese billionaire Guo Wen Gui is hunted by Chinese communist party by all means, he is exposing the massive corruption on highest level of Communist party and launching a campaign to push for Chinese Constitutional reform," the petition states.
The petition also said China has issued "an assassination bounty reward" for Guo and his family.
The dissident Chinese news outlet China Digital Times has documented some of Guo's charges and reported that Guo is planning an international news conference at an unspecified time in the future.
Disclosure of the Chinese intelligence activities come as the New York Times reported last weekend that China executed or imprisoned up to 20 of the CIA's recruited agents, based on a Chinese mole in the agency or a compromise of its secure communications.
The newspaper quoted intelligence sources as saying the damage began in 2010 and continued for two years, effectively neutralizing the CIA's sources of information on a major intelligence target.