Robert Contee Discusses Transnational Repression

Office of Partner Engagement director Robert Contee delivers a public service announcement about Transnational Repression.

Video Transcript

Today I want to talk to you about something that we at the FBI take very seriously: Transnational Repression.

Transnational Repression occurs when foreign governments reach across borders to intimidate and silence their diaspora communities and exiles, in the United States and abroad.

Foreign governments do this through harassment, violence, abduction and forced repatriation, cyber targeting and hacking, abuse of legal mechanisms, intimidation of family members and friends, and even assassination.

Many of those targeted are human rights and religious activists, dissidents, journalists, political opponents, or religious or ethnic minorities.

When foreign governments target these people in the United States or target US persons living abroad, we at the FBI want to know about it.

You have heard our Director speak about Transnational Repression before, but today I want to highlight one very troubling aspect of this threat.

We have seen operatives from repressive regimes try to suppress dissident voices in the United States by co-opting US law enforcement officers, hiring private investigators, soliciting the services of employees of social media companies, and recruiting or coercing members of local diaspora communities.

For instance, intelligence services from China, Iran, and other countries have used US-based persons to conduct surveillance against and collect personal information on individuals that their regimes were targeting in the United States.

In February 2022, an individual who was later charged as acting as an illegal agent of the Chinese government worked with a retired US federal officer turned private investigator and a then current federal officer in an attempt to forcibly repatriate targeted individuals to China.

In mid-2020, the Iranian government used the services of a US private investigator as part of a foiled plot to kidnap a critic of Iran from the United States.

I am speaking with you today to raise the alarm that law enforcement officers as well as other individuals and entities in the United States with access to personal data need to be vigilant against improper efforts to obtain such information, or to solicit their support for malicious foreign operations.

If you receive a suspicious request, it is important that you understand how your actions could affect others and what steps you can take to avoid becoming a pawn in a foreign government’s repressive plot.

Knowingly helping a foreign government target individuals in the United States could not only be illegal and result in federal charges, but could also result in direct physical and emotional harm to the targeted individual.

Such activity could support online hacking and the spread of disinformation; suppression of free speech; harassment; stalking; assault; forced repatriation or kidnapping of a person to another country; or even murder.


So, how can you help protect those in the United States exercising their rights, and keep yourself from being used as a pawn by a foreign government?

First and foremost, know your customer and conduct due diligence when others approach you to research personal information or lifestyle details of an individual, especially someone who belongs to a repressive regime’s diaspora community.

Foreign governments want to leverage your access to personal information of targets to learn addresses, employment information, and other pattern of life information.

Foreign governments may also seek information under the guise of law enforcement cooperation.

Do not abuse your access to personal data. Consider what processes and triggers your department can create to prevent the targeting of diaspora members’ information.

Beware of gifts or favors. Promises of rewards in exchange for services could be masking a malicious scheme to harm a person or group.

If you become aware of threats, encourage targets of transnational repression to report as soon as possible to the FBI, and to preserve all evidence including texts, voicemails, screenshots of communications, video recordings, and the devices on which they were received.

Document whether threatening individuals claimed any affiliation with a foreign government, and whether they directed the target to stop any activity, especially if they threatened physical, economic or legal harm to the target or the target’s family.

And when in doubt, reach out. All requests by foreign law enforcement entities must be coordinated with the FBI and US Department of State. If you suspect a request could be in support of a malicious foreign plot to harm a person or group, call your local FBI office or go online to report it at

Thank you for helping keep our communities safe from Transnational Repression.

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