Christopher Wray, Director of the FBI, has pointed to China as the single biggest law enforcement threat and tech thief facing the United States and warned that Beijing was seeking to acquire American technology through any means necessary. He was speaking at a conference held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
The China threat
“As I stand here talking with you today, the FBI has about 1,000 investigations involving China’s attempted theft of US-based technology in all 56 of our field offices and spanning just about every industry sector,” Wray said at the conference (The Guardian). To obtain American trade secrets, the Chinese are using every technique at their disposal, right from physical theft to corrupting trusted insiders and hacking.
It is not just the defense sector that the Chinese espionage is targeting. Every new tech, from high-end medical devices to software for wind turbines and even agricultural innovations like proprietary corn seeds, rice seeds, etc., are prime targets of theft. In addition to innovation and R&D, the criminal elements are aiming at other sensitive information like internal strategy documents, pricing information, and anything that can give them a competitive advantage.
Wray pointed out that the Chinese regime was taking undue advantage of the open nature of American society where individual and business rights are protected. In contrast, there is little distinction between the civilian and military sectors or state and business sectors in China. He warned that Beijing was sending Chinese students to the U.S. to steal intellectual property. The regime is also setting up Confucius Institutes at American universities to promote the ideology of the Communist Party. The FBI director asked American universities and businesses to cooperate with the country’s intelligence agencies to protect U.S. interests.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr also spoke at the conference and sided with Wray’s assessment of China being a huge threat to the U.S. “As a dictatorship, China can marshal an all-of-nation approach — the government, private companies, and academia acting together as one… Our economic future is at stake… We have to bear in mind that, given the narrow window we face, the risk of losing the 5G struggle with China should vastly outweigh all other considerations,” he said in a statement (CBS News).
In recent testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, Wray warned that Russia is involved in information warfare regarding the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The disinformation campaign apparently never stopped after the 2016 elections. In addition to spreading fake news, automated bots create fake U.S. social media accounts to promote the interests of Moscow.
“They identify an issue that they know that the American people feel passionately about on both sides and then they take both sides and spin them up so they pit us against each other… And then they combine that with an effort to weaken our confidence in our elections and our democratic institutions which has been a pernicious and asymmetric way of engaging in affect information warfare,” Wray said in a statement (Fox 11 News).
Despite the disinformation campaign, Wray agreed that the FBI won’t act as the truth police and try to censor content online since such a move would be against the spirit of freedom of expression and the First Amendment. He said that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are on the alert to deal with cyber activities targeted at the U.S. election.