Singaporean Dickson Yeo released from detention under ISA, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Singaporean Dickson Yeo released from detention under ISA

A Singaporean man who spied on the United States for a foreign state was released here from detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on Tuesday (Dec 14).

The Internal Security Department (ISD) said the threat Dickson Yeo posed has since been neutralised.

The 40-year-old was arrested in the US in November 2019 and deported to Singapore on Dec 30, where he was immediately arrested.

He was then detained under the ISA in January this year for acting as a paid agent for a foreign state, which ISD did not name.

However, Yeo had admitted in a US federal court to acting under the direction of Chinese intelligence officials to obtain sensitive information from American citizens.

Yeo, who was sentenced to 14 months' jail, had claimed before the US court that he bore no ill will towards the US and that he did not betray Singapore.

The ISD on Tuesday said investigations into the full extent of Yeo's activities established that his dealings with the foreign state were clandestine in nature.

His foreign handlers had first reached out to him 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 a trip to Beijing in 2015, Yeo was recruited by Chinese agents who claimed to represent think-tanks.

He was at that time studying for a doctorate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

From 2016 to 2019, Yeo carried out various tasks given to him by his foreign handlers in exchange for money.

The ISD said Yeo was "fully aware" that his handlers were working for the intelligence apparatus of a foreign state.

"Investigations also showed that Yeo was tasked to source information and provide reports on issues of interest to his foreign handlers, for which he was paid substantial amounts," the department added.

"Those reports were primarily on global and regional geo-political issues and developments, including issues related to Singapore."

In the course of his work, Yeo had approached various individuals in Singapore whom he thought would have privileged information on the issues of interest.

He also set up a front company in Singapore and placed job advertisements on social networking sites to identify potential writers and talent-spot individuals for his foreign handlers.

Yeo would tell those he approached that the issues he was interested in were "research topics" for various foreign clients.

The ISD also said Yeo had applied for sensitive government positions in order to "enrich his reports with privileged policy insights and classified information".

"However, his attempts to secure employment in the public sector were unsuccessful," it added.

"Based on ISD's investigation findings, Yeo 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."

The threat that Yeo poses as a foreign agent has been assessed to be "effectively neutralised" and he does not pose a security threat that "warrants continued detention", the ISD said.

Yeo was released under a suspension direction, which can be revoked by the Minister for Home Affairs.

ISD said Yeo will be re-detained if he does not comply with certain conditions, but they did not specify what conditions he is subjected to.

The department said attempts to target Singapore or use Singaporeans as proxies to pursue the interests of foreign states are not new, but Yeo's case demonstrates how the threat has become more pronounced with the prevalence of social media.

Social media has made it easier for foreign intelligence services to talent-spot, groom and cultivate potential agents, even from abroad, the ISD 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."

The ISD is also urging 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," added the department.

Anyone who suspects that he may have been approached by foreign agents, or knows of someone who has, should contact the ISD on 1800-2626-473.