Report: Alleged Chinese Communist Party Agent Offered To Bribe US Journalist For Intel

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Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
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An alleged member of a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) think tank tried to bribe an American journalist to reveal her sources, according to an Axios report published Tuesday.

The “surprisingly clumsy attempt to gain insider information about the U.S. government’s China policy” was detailed by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios’ China reporter, who said she was the reporter that the alleged CCP agent attempted to bribe. The individual also allegedly tried to gain information regarding how President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration sees China.

Aaron Shen, who claimed he was the China Center for Contemporary World Studies’ assistant director of international liaison, reached out to Allen-Ebrahimian on LinkedIn, she said. (RELATED: Editor Daily Rundown: China Using Blackmail, Bribery To Influence Members Of Congress, DNI Ratcliffe Says)

The think tank Shen claimed to work for is run by the International Department of the Chinese Community Party’s Central Committee, which works to gain support for China among political parties in other countries and operates as the party’s foreign affairs department, according to Axios.

After chatting nonchalantly for a bit, Shen began asking how Allen-Ebrahimian could get “first-hand information” amid COVID-19.

“He [Shen] said he was ‘troubled by lacking channels and sources to gather the first-hand in-depth information we need for our research and consulting work,'” Allen-Ebrahimian wrote. “He said they placed a lot of value on ‘information sources’ with ‘authority’ that could ‘reflect true situation and trends of the U.S.-China relations.'”

“If the contributions can really reflect real situation and meet our demand well, the remuneration will be generously paid without doubt,” Shen wrote to the reporter, according to the Axios article.

Allen-Ebrahimian said she didn’t agree or accept compensation and did not reveal any real names or reports. She did, however, play around with Shen after he suggested bribery.

“So I decided to play along and see how far I could take it. And I thought, well, might as well have some fun with it. So I started sending him names of Simpsons characters,” she wrote on Twitter.

“I told him that Troy McClure and Kent Brockman ‘have unique insights into American society,'” she continued. Troy McClure and Kent Brockman are both popular side characters from the animated sitcom “The Simpsons.”

“After Shen offered to pay me for reports written with input from my sources, I told him I had an imminent meeting with a ‘former intelligence director’ (an important-sounding but non-existent position) named ‘Krustofsky’ — the last name of Krusty the Clown, a character from the Simpsons,” the Axios reporter noted before adding that Shen did not seem to get the connection.

LinkedIn is a common tool for China in recruiting overseas spies, a 2019 New York Times report noted. In fact, Western counterintelligence officials called the platform “a prime hunting ground” and noted that Chinese spies use it the most, according to the NYT.

It remains unclear exactly who Shen is – his name did not come up on the think tank website and his LinkedIn was deleted after Allen-Ebrahimian requested formal comment.

Ultimately, though, Allen-Ebrahimian suggested the sloppy work could show that China is struggling to gain information from Washington amid COVID-19 and worsening relations with the U.S.