Vernuccio’s View: China’s Threat

FBI Director Christopher Wray recently outlined the threat China poses to U.S. economic and national security. He delivered the review during a meeting with the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.

Wray warned the greatest long-term threat to America’s information and intellectual property, and to its economic vitality, is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China.

Wray’s remarks echoed those recently made by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. He has noted that  “We cannot close our eyes and ears to what China is doing…if you think these issues are just an intelligence issue, or a government problem, or a nuisance largely just for big corporations who can take care of themselves—you could not be more wrong. It’s the people of the United States who are the victims of what amounts to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.”

O’Brien believes that if you are an adult living in America, it is more than likely that China has stolen your personal data. To back up that assertion, he used a recent example.  In 2017, the Chinese military conspired to hack Equifax and made off with the sensitive personal information of 150 million Americans—nearly half of the American population and most American adults. O’Brien emphasized that “This was hardly a standalone incident.”

Another example involves Anthem and its associated insurers. In 2015, China’s hackers stole the personal data of 80 million of that company’s current and former customers.

Americans employed or seeking employment with the federal government are at particular risk. In 2014, China’s hackers stole more than 21 million records from OPM, the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management. Beijing is using social media platforms—the same ones Americans use to stay connected or find jobs—to identify people with access to our government’s sensitive information and then target those people to try to steal it.

Wray reported that the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours. “Of the nearly 5,000 active FBI counterintelligence cases currently underway across the country, almost half are related to China. And at this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.”

Wray stressed that  “When I speak of the threat from China, I mean the government of China and the Chinese Communist Party…China is engaged in a whole-of-state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary.”

The FBI Director reported that China uses a diverse range of sophisticated techniques—everything from cyber intrusions to corrupting trusted insiders. They’ve even engaged in outright physical theft. And they’ve pioneered an expansive approach to stealing innovation through a wide range of actors—including not just Chinese intelligence services but state-owned enterprises, ostensibly private companies, certain kinds of graduate students and researchers, and a whole variety of other actors working on their behalf.

The FBI has disclosed that China often steals American intellectual property and then uses it to compete against the very American companies it victimized.

The FBI has over a a thousand investigations into China’s actual and attempted theft of American technology, and that’s only part of the picture. There are at least an additional thousand more ongoing counterintelligence investigations of other kinds related to China.

Wray noted that his agency is “conducting these kinds of investigations in all 56 of our field offices. And over the past decade, we’ve seen economic espionage cases with a link to China increase by approximately 1,300 percent.”

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government

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