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A research institute in China that is affiliated with the ruling Communist Party’s foreign-influence operations compiled extensive profiles of members of Parliament with Chinese ethnicity, two sources say.

The sources say this Chinese institute used large-scale data analytics and artificial intelligence to create detailed profiles in 2022. There are fewer than 10 MPs of Chinese descent in Canada’s House of Commons.

The profiles were drawn up by a research institute that supports the work of China’s United Front Work Department, a body that answers to the party’s central committee. UFWD oversees Beijing’s influence, propaganda and intelligence operations inside and outside China. The Globe and Mail has been unable to confirm the name of the institute.

The sources say China’s cyber and digital operation to gather information on these MPs was first detected by the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s secret signals intelligence agency, and shared with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). The Globe is not revealing the identity of the two sources, who risk prosecution under the Security of Information Act for discussing these matters.

Foreign-interference inquiry’s short timeline, broad mandate raise concerns

One of the sources emphasized that these profiles were not the same as Chinese state disinformation and intimidation campaigns that targeted Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong, NDP MP Jenny Kwan, former Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole and former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu in the lead-up to and during the 2021 elections.

Those operations were believed to have been handled principally by China’s top spy agency, the Ministry of State Security (MSS).

“The United Front Work Department is the arm and vehicle for the security and ideological apparatus,” said Alan Jones, a former CSIS assistant director and executive adviser to the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute.

“The intelligence services gather information on people. If you want to understand somebody, you gather every piece of information that you can about them. You analyze them. You do a profile and it sits there for the day when you think there is an opportunity to do something with that person.”

CSE spokesperson Nayeli Sosa said the cyber spy agency could not comment on any questions related to intelligence collection by China but said all information relating to foreign meddling has been shared with the public inquiry investigating foreign interference.

“Canadians can be assured that CSE has provided all relevant documents and information to the commission of inquiry on foreign interference and to relevant oversight bodes such as the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) and the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians (NSICOP),” she said.

CSIS spokesman Eric Balsam said the public inquiry has access to “all CSIS holdings related to foreign interference.” He added that CSIS has been directed since May, 2023, to give the “highest level of attention” to foreign interference directed at “Parliament and parliamentarians,” and their families.

Dan Stanton, a former senior executive at CSIS and director of the national-security program at the University of Ottawa, said detailed profiles of MPs could be used to target them in the future.

“This type of information is invaluable to foreign intelligence services as a means to building personal profiles, which can later be exploited. Personal interests, weaknesses, friends, family and professional contacts are good to know for future cultivation efforts,” he said.

Chinese Canadians are often the main targets, and victims, of foreign interference by the Chinese government.

China’s interest in using data mining and artificial intelligence to monitor and surveil people has generated concern for years.

In 2021, the Washington Post reported on how China was using its internet data-surveillance network to mine Western social media, including Facebook and Twitter, as a means of equipping its government agencies, military and police with information on foreign targets.

During the same year, CSIS director David Vigneault publicly warned of China’s data-mining operations, citing news stories about Zhenhua Data Technology. The Shenzhen-based company primarily serves China’s military and intelligence services, and had amassed sensitive data on 2.4 million individuals around the world.

“Approximately 20 per cent of this data was not publicly available and likely accessed via cyberespionage,” Mr. Vigneault noted at the time.

The Globe reached out to Mr. Chong, Ms. Kwan, Independent MP Han Dong, elected as a Liberal in the 2019 and 2021 elections, and Liberal MPs Jean Yip, Wilson Miao, Shaun Chen, Paul Chiang and International Trade Minister Mary Ng for comment.

“It was told to me in briefings that the PRC government is collecting data on me,” Mr. Chong said. “But was I told about AI scraping and that eight other elected officials were involved? No I wasn’t.”

Mr. Chong said he was also broadly aware that they were collecting that kind of data, particularly on biometrics, such as facial and other personal characteristics.

Ms. Kwan said she “cannot comment on the specific means that the PRC is using to target me” but noted that the public inquiry has heard testimony on a variety of sophisticated methods to target its critics.

“It would not surprise me if the PRC were collecting data on its Canadian critics to generate profiles on them,” she added.

However, Ms. Yip said: ”This is the first time I have heard about this. No one has sent me any information about myself or about this issue.”

Giulia Doyle, a spokesperson for Ms. Ng, promised to respond to a Globe request for comment by Sunday, but did not return either phone calls or e-mails.

CSIS was required to share classified information on any activity by a hostile state against MPs after The Globe reported exclusively last May that Mr. Chong and his family members in Hong Kong had been targeted by China in 2021.

A top-secret July, 2021, CSIS assessment, reported by The Globe in May, 2023, said that the Ministry of State Security “has taken specific actions to target Canadian MPs” who were linked to the February, 2021, parliamentary motion condemning Beijing’s oppression of Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities. The motion, which was moved by Mr. Chong and passed by a large margin, declared that China’s conduct amounted to genocide.

The spy agency said an MSS officer also sought information on an unnamed MP’s relatives “who may be located in the PRC, for further sanctions.”

After The Globe revealed that Mr. Chong was the target, the government ordered CSIS to provide a classified briefing to the MP and expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei. The Globe had reported that Mr. Zhao was involved in the targeting and was suspected of being an intelligence agent.

In classified briefings, Mr. Vigneault also informed Ms. Kwan and Mr. O’Toole that they too were targets of Chinese state intimidation.

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