Dickson Yeo released on suspension direction after foreign agent threat ‘effectively neutralised’: ISD
SINGAPORE: Singaporean Dickson Yeo Jun Wei, who was jailed in the US for spying for China, has been released from detention in Singapore after the threat he poses as a foreign agent was “effectively neutralised”, the Internal Security Department (ISD) said on Tuesday (Dec 14).
Yeo, 40, was arrested after returning to Singapore on Dec 30 last year, and he was interviewed to establish if he had engaged in activities prejudicial to Singapore’s security.
On Jan 29 this year, Yeo was detained under the Internal Security Act for acting as a paid agent for a "foreign state".
Although ISD did not name the foreign state, Yeo was last year sentenced to 14 months' jail in the US for spying for China against the US.
On Tuesday, Yeo was released on a suspension direction after ISD completed its investigations and found that he did not manage to obtain and pass on any classified information about Singapore to his foreign handlers.
“Information from ISD’s interviews with individuals whom Yeo had approached and other related investigations have largely corroborated what Yeo has disclosed or admitted to,” ISD said.
“The threat that Yeo poses as a foreign agent is assessed to be effectively neutralised. As such, he does not pose a security threat that warrants continued detention.”
A suspension direction is a ministerial direction to suspend an existing detention order. The Minister for Home Affairs may revoke the suspension direction, and the person will be redetained if he does not comply with conditions stipulated in the suspension direction.
ISD later told CNA that individuals released on suspension direction will serve the remaining term of their detention order under this direction. The conditions of a suspension direction include not being allowed to leave the country without the prior written approval of the ISD director.
ISD’s investigations into the full extent of Yeo’s activities found that foreign handlers first reached out to Yeo in 2015 through an online professional networking site. They subsequently invited him to an academic symposium overseas, where he was approached to write reports for them.
During dealings with the foreign state from 2016 to 2019, Yeo was tasked to source for information and provide reports on issues of interest to his foreign handlers, for which he was paid “substantial amounts”, ISD said.
“Those reports were primarily on global and regional geo-political issues and developments, including issues related to Singapore,” ISD said.
“To this end, Yeo had approached various individuals in Singapore whom he thought would have privileged information on the issues.”
Yeo also set up a front company in Singapore and put up job advertisements on social networking sites to identify potential writers and "talent-spot" individuals for his foreign handlers, ISD said.
“Using research for foreign clients as a cover, Yeo had informed the individuals he approached and the potential writers that the taskings were instead 'research topics' for various foreign clients,” ISD said.
Yeo, on the direction of his handlers, also applied for sensitive government positions in order to "enrich" his reports with privileged policy insights and classified information. However, his attempts to get employed in the public sector were unsuccessful.
“Yeo was fully aware that his handlers were working for the intelligence apparatus of a foreign state,” ISD added.
ATTEMPTS TO TARGET SINGAPORE “NOT NEW”: ISD
Attempts to target Singapore or use Singaporeans as proxies to pursue the interests of foreign states are "not new", ISD said.
“However, Yeo’s case demonstrates how the threat has become more pronounced with the prevalence of social media, which has made it easier for foreign intelligence services to talent-spot, groom and cultivate potential agents, even from abroad,” it added.
“The threat has manifested widely in several other countries, where retired or serving civil servants and individuals in the private sector with access to classified or sensitive information, have been targeted by foreign intelligence services via social networking sites.”
ISD urged Singaporeans to remain vigilant to such dangers posed by foreign agents, who may use social media profiles to offer attractive business or career opportunities, or try to obtain sensitive information.
“The Singapore Government takes a very serious view of anyone who enters into a clandestine relationship with a foreign government and engages in activities at the behest of the foreign power that is inimical to our national security and interests, including bilateral relations,” ISD stated.