An ethnic Tibetan New York City police officer and U.S. Army reservist was unmasked this week as a spy working to inform China on the activities of Chinese citizens and the Tibetan community in the New York area, the U.S. Justice Department said in a press release on Monday.
Baimadajie Angwang, 33, was arrested in Williston Park, New York, on Sept. 21 and charged with acting as an illegal agent for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and with wire fraud and making false statements, the Department press release said.
“Since at least 2014, Angwang acted at the direction and control of officials at the PRC Consulate in New York City,” the Justice Department said, adding that court documents state that Angwang was “explicit about his motivations,” saying he hoped that his actions would “bring glory to China.”
“Specifically, Angwang reported on the activities of Chinese citizens in the New York area, spotted and assessed potential intelligence sources within the Tibetan community in New York and elsewhere, and also provided PRC officials with access to senior New York City Police Department (NYPD) officials through invitations to official events,” the Justice Department said.
The veteran police officer, whom the department described as “an ethnic Tibetan native of the PRC and naturalized U.S. citizen,” faces a maximum 55-year prison term if convicted.
“Baimadajie Angwang violated every oath he took he took in this country. One to the United States, another to the U.S. Army, and a third to the Police Department,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot F. Shea said in a statement Monday.
“From the earliest stages of this investigation, the NYPD’s Intelligence and Internal Affairs bureaus worked closely with the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division to make sure this individual would be brought to justice.”
Call for greater vigilance
There was no immediate response to a phone message seeking comment from his lawyer, but Tibetans based in the U.S. and in India called for greater vigilance in Tibetan exile communities to detect infiltrations by Beijing.
China considers Tibet’s India-based exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), an important target for subversion, Karma Rinchen—Secretary of the CTA Department of Security—said, describing Chinese efforts to penetrate the Tibetan diaspora, now spread over more than 30 countries worldwide, as “well-executed and planned.”
“Now, as Tibetans all over the world are gearing up for our election [for a new exile leader], the Chinese government will use this as a major opportunity to provoke disagreements and hostility among us by sending in spies. We must always be on high alert,” he said.
“A New York police officer hired by the Chinese government to spy on Tibetans in New York shows the lengths to which Beijing will go to undermine Tibetans,” added Ngodup Tsering, a representative of the Office of Tibet in North America.
“So Tibetans have to be much more vigilant.”
Tashi Choephel, former general secretary of the Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey recalled that Angwang, whose name in Tibetan is Pema Dhargyal Ngawang, had approached his group in 2019 to offer assistance in organizing Tibetan New Year celebrations.
“He introduced himself as a Tibetan police officer and extended his willingness to help the Tibetan community. But he wasn’t fluent in Tibetan,” Choephel said. “Later, we found that he was spotted at the Chinese Consulate in New York on the very same day that he attended our Losar celebration, and that sowed doubt in all of us.”
“Many Chinese spies have been infiltrating Tibetan society as instruments of Beijing’s long-running campaign to undermine support for [exiled Tibetan spiritual leader] the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders,” said Lama Tseta, former head of the Shugden Association of South India and now living in Connecticut.
“The Chinese government is spending huge amounts of money to use Tibetans against other Tibetans to destroy our unity,” Tseta said. “They are sending spies into our community to spread China’s influence and to help China advance its political agenda.”
In June 2018, Dorjee Gyantsan, a Tibetan resident of Sweden, was convicted in a Swedish court of spying for China and was handed a 22-month prison term for collecting information on the identities, political views, and travel of fellow Tibetans living in Sweden.
Gyantsan, who had spied for China from July 2015 to February 2017, had passed the information to a Chinese intelligence officer in Poland, for which the court said he had been paid 50,000 kroner (U.S, $6,000) on at least one occasion, according to press reports.
(Reported and translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.)
(Updates with U.S. Justice Department description of the policeman as “an ethnic Tibetan native of the PRC and naturalized U.S. citizen.”)
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