U.S. charges last week against two people for allegedly running a Chinese "secret police station" in New York marked the latest case in a broad ramp-up in the use of a century-old law meant to curb the activity of foreign agents.

The law, Section 951, was passed as part of the 1917 Espionage Act — enacted partly to combat resistance to the World War I draft — and makes it illegal to operate in the United States subject to a foreign government's direction or control without notifying the attorney general.

The Justice Department last year charged at least 25 people with violating or conspiring to violate the law. That was the highest number since at least 2003, according to a review of Justice Department statements and court records. Prosecutors have charged at least nine since the start of this year.