BREAKING: US officials raid Chinese consulate in Houston believed to be spy hub

U.S. officials have breached the locked Chinese consulate in Houston.

US officials have alleged the facility was part of a Chinese espionage effort and ordered the facility to close.

Houston Chronicle reports U.S. officials took over the Chinese consulate in Houston on Friday afternoon, less than an hour after the eviction deadline ordered by the Trump Administration earlier this week amid accusations of espionage activity.

Forty minutes after the 4 p.m. eviction deadline passed, a man believed to be a State Department official entered the consulate, along with others, after a small back door was pried open. Officials had earlier tried three separate entrances, but were not able to gain entry. Security teams, wearing shirts emblazoned with the words U.S. Department of State, stood watch at the back entrance. The fire department also entered and exited the consulate.

Moments before the eviction deadline, Houston police had set up barricades at the compound, closing off streets near the building the Chinese government has occupied for four decades. Within minutes of the deadline, three white vans pulled out of the consulate, at least two of which had consul plates.

The Trump Administration confirmed the closure on Wednesday, citing a need to protect American intellectual property and private information. The Chinese government threatened to retaliate and early Friday announced the closure of a U.S. consulate in Chengdu.

The order to close the consulate resurged speculation of espionage activity in Texas, although it’s unknown what activity, if any, might have originated at the Montrose building.

The Justice Department on Tuesday indicted two suspected Chinese hackers, alleging they targeted U.S. companies conducting COVID-19 research. Several research facilities within the Texas Medical Center are involved in that work. Federal authorities also claimed the alleged hackers stole “business proposals and other documents concerning space and satellite applications” from an unnamed technology firm in Texas. That firm was just one of 25 victims across the U.S. and abroad that were named in the indictment, however.

On Thursday, federal authorities said they believed the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco was harboring a Chinese researcher, the Associated Press reported. The person at the consulate, according to the U.S. Justice Department, was Tuan Dang, a woman accused of lying about her background in the Communist Party’s military wing on a visa application.

Per FreeBeacon Chinese Communist Party officials operating at a consulate building in Houston, Texas, engaged in espionage operations on Beijing’s behalf and waged cyberattacks across the United States for at least a decade in one of the most sophisticated operations of its nature, according to senior law enforcement and State Department officials.

The Chinese consulate in Houston was ordered by the Trump administration to shutter its operations as of Friday, though it is unclear if China will heed this order. Communist Party officials have been caught shredding documents and other materials since the order was handed down earlier this week in what American officials say is an attempt to destroy evidence of these espionage operations.

The Houston facility is one of 25 known locations across the United States in which China installed undercover operatives to spy on the American government, U.S. businesses, and academic research institutions, according to multiple senior Trump administration officials familiar with the activities. From these outposts, Chinese officials “facilitated covert activity by instructing People’s Liberation Army (PLA) members to purposefully violate U.S. laws by making false statements on their visa applications and lying about their affiliation with the PLA,” according to information provided by the State Department. The Houston consulate served as a central base of operations and “targeted more than 50 Houston-area researchers, professors, and academics for participation in Chinese talent plans,” which enlist Americans to steal sensitive research on behalf of the Communist Party.

The Trump administration’s landmark order shuttering the Houston consulate is just one piece of a larger effort to thwart Chinese espionage operations in the United States, which officials say have gone unchecked for decades. The Trump administration is expected to take further actions, which include sanctions on officials and the arrest of hackers known to steal information on the Communist Party’s behalf.

“The PRC Consulate in Houston has directed economic espionage and other activities contrary to U.S. law not only in the city of Houston but across the entire southeastern United States,” according to the State Department. “The criminal activities directed by the PRC Consulate in Houston include: economic espionage, visa fraud, theft of commercial intellectual property for diversion to the PRC military, theft of medical research for transfer to China, falsification of official documents, and more.”

The FBI, which has been investigating China’s operations in the United States along with the State and Justice Departments, said Chinese officials stationed in America have stolen more than $1 billion in trade secrets from American companies. Officials say this just scratches the surface of China’s U.S.-based spy ring.

“I can tell you that Houston—the behavior was once again, not unlike what we’ve seen throughout the country,” a senior law enforcement source said, speaking only on background. “We have over 50 examples over the last 10 years of the Houston consulate supporting talent from members of recruitment in the area, targeting various research centers down there.”

In addition to cyber hacks, Chinese officials lured dissidents and other Communist regime critics back to China.

“The folks in Houston were very much active participants in all the various efforts of collection work that the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party is doing,” the law enforcement official said.