Two men were detained in New York City on Monday, accused of working for the Chinese government’s secret police. In addition, over three-dozen members of China’s national police force have been accused of harassing dissidents in the United States through social media.

These accusations are part of a larger pattern of actions pursued by the Justice Department in recent years to counter Chinese efforts to silence anyone who speaks out against the leadership in Beijing.

In the fall of 2022, an FBI inquiry led to the closing of an office building in Manhattan’s Chinatown where a local branch of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security had been functioning. After learning of the FBI’s inquiry, the two individuals who were jailed deleted all of their text messages with the Chinese official who had directed and controlled them.

Despite China having clandestine police stations in multiple nations, these arrests were the first of their sort anywhere in the world, according to Justice Department officials. The head of the FBI’s New York field office said during a news conference announcing the accusations that “this is a blatant violation of our national sovereignty.”

Residents of the United States, 61 years old “Harry” Lu Jianwang of the Bronx, and 59 years old “Chen” Jinping of Manhattan, were detained; neither had ever reported to the Justice Department as agents of a foreign government. The covert police station assisted Chinese residents with mundane tasks like renewing driver’s licenses, but it also had a more nefarious purpose by helping the Chinese government track down a pro-democracy activist of Chinese ancestry living in California.

The attorney for Lu declined to comment, while the one for Chen was contacted via email and asked for their thoughts.