Only three weeks ago, DIGIT reported on the ramping-up of rhetoric surrounding Russian interference in western politics. The furore surrounded the debut of Former First Minister Alex Salmond’s chat show on Russia network RT as well as the discovery by researchers from the University of Swansea that Russian Twitter bots were disruptively tweeting about Scottish politics.
Now, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a German domestic intelligence agency, has warned that China may be utilising social media platform LinkedIn to gather information on its officials and politicians. A nine-month investigation launched by the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) has concluded that Chinese agents masquerading as scholars, researchers and headhunters have contacted more than 10,000 Germans over the networking site.
The agency warns that the effort may be a push to recruit German citizens as informants, and that China has created a number of fake profiles for the purpose. Hans-Georg Maassen, Head of the BfV, has asserted that the accounts show an effort to disrupt German politics, noting: “This is a broad-based attempt to infiltrate in particular parliaments, ministries and government agencies.”
China did not formally respond to the allegations until Monday, where Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang (speaking in Beijing) dismissed the accusations as baseless. Lu said: “We hope the relevant German organizations, particularly government departments, can speak and act more responsibly, and not do things that are not beneficial to the development of bilateral relations”.
Over the weekend, BfV published the fake profiles in a bid to out them and warn German citizens over the dangers of social media. According to the BBC, the profiles are specifically designed to look enticing to users, being ‘run’ by Chinese professionals who in reality do not exist.
Some of these profiles include ‘Allen Liu’ – an alleged human resources manager – and ‘Lily Wu’, a who reportedly works at a think tank in eastern China. The BfV has said that both accounts are fraudulent.
The BfV has also asked users who believe that they may have been targeted by suspicious accounts to contact them.