Singaporean national Jun Wei Yeo, who also used the name Dickson Yeo, entered the United States in January 2019 and was a George Washington University fellow until July 2019. The FBI arrested him in November 2019 on suspicion of espionage-related activity.
Neither court records nor open sources specify a visa or full range of dates during which Yeo was a GWU fellow in the Washington, D.C., area. However, for a university fellowship, he would have been required to have obtained either a J-1 cultural exchange visa or an F-1 student visa, either of which would have entailed State Department national security vetting in his native Singapore before he received a visa.
An eventual FBI counterintelligence investigation discovered that Yeo had been working clandestinely as a People’s Republic of China Intelligence Services (PRCIS) spy since at least 2015, several years before the university fellowship was approved. His mission was “to obtain valuable nonpublic information from the United States about matters of economic, military, and political importance, and then provide that information to his PRCIS handlers”, court records from his 2019 prosecution state. That included classified information if Yeo could obtain it. Yeo had been recruited by Chinese intelligence officers during a 2015 trip as a PhD student and accepted the mission out of anti-American fervor and greed, prosecutors alleged.
“Yeo, a highly educated Ph.D. candidate, understood that his work on behalf of the PRCIS contributed to a much larger effort to diminish American power and influence relative to China,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. After his 2019 arrest for acting as an unregistered foreign agent, “Yeo conceded that he was motivated to work for the PRCIS, in part, because he was ideologically aligned with China’s goal of diminishing U.S. influence in international affairs.”
While security vetting for J and F visas in 2018 and 2019 was not geared toward discovering foreign spies trained in the art of evasion, State Department efforts in Singapore apparently missed at least one opportunity to do so.
Starting in 2018, before he became a GWU fellow, Yeo used the business social media platform LinkedIn to lure American job applicants who held security clearances to his “consulting company”. But the company he listed for his social media account did not actually exist. For his fake consulting company, Yeo used the same name as a prominent U.S. consulting firm that conducts public and government relations, a ruse that potentially could have been discovered had State Department personnel checked public records and called for an employment check during the visa vetting process.
Another potentially discoverable red flag was that Yeo’s PhD supervisor had been a high profile academic named Huang Jing. In 2017, two years before his student secured the George Washington University fellowship, Singapore expelled Jing from the country for being an “agent of influence of a foreign country” that was not identified in public reporting, according to the BBC. Any publicly available linkage between Jing and Yeo should have been discovered and pursued.
Instead, Yeo went on to use his fellowship time to collect hundreds of resumes from U.S. military and government personnel with security clearances, and he passed some of these resumes to Chinese intelligence operatives. In addition, he used his time at GWU to network with lobbyists and defense contracting companies. He was arrested in the United States in November 2019 and later sentenced to 14 months imprisonment. He returned to Singapore in December 2020 and was arrested there.