Analysis: Chinese spying is major threat to US national security

Forget the China tariffs. Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray rolled out a new broadside Thursday in the Justice Department’s China Initiative. The point of the China Initiative is to raise awareness – and, it now appears, to prepare for a U.S. duel with China over 5G, which stands for Fifth-Generation wireless communications technology. The new technology allows far more communications devices to transmit data at far higher speeds. With 5G we will be able to browse the Internet, upload and download videos, and use data-intensive apps and features much more quickly and smoothly. Over three hours Thursday at a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Justice Department officials detailed China’s threats to U.S. national security. The threats stem from China’s rise and now permeate America’s business sector and universities, and loom over the future of the global Internet. “The stakes for our country couldn’t be higher,” Barr said. He pegged American losses due to China’s economic espionage at $600 billion per year. Wray gave compelling details. “The Chinese Communist Party is fighting a generational fight to surpass our country in economic and technological leadership,” he said. “They are willing to steal their way up the economic ladder at our expense.” Backing up Barr and Wray were top officials from the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, plus a team of five U.S. attorneys who are prosecuting China cases. “We’ve been deceived for too long,” summed up John Brown, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division. Of course, China’s plan for world dominance is not new. What’s changed is that Barr and his Justice Department and FBI teams now see America’s struggle with China as on a par with the Cold War, and even World War II. The twin goals in this round of the China Initiative are to raise awareness and to take aim for a fresh U.S. push against China’s potential dominance of the future Internet via 5G. But the China threat is getting too big for the FBI to handle by itself. Chinese espionage against the United States has reached unprecedented levels – greater than anything seen in the Cold War. The FBI has over 1,000 cases ongoing, and has already arrested spies accused of infiltrating the State Department, CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency. The FBI and Justice Department are “working their tails off” but “we can’t do it on our own,” Wray said. Wray wants “a whole of society response” in which the government, academic and private sectors working together. In other words, Americans need to be more aware. Here are some of the reasons why. China allegedly had a spy at Harvard. On Jan. 28, the FBI arrested Dr. Charles Lieber, head of Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry. Lieber was allegedly making $50,000 per month working a second gig for China on nanotechnology, and allegedly lied about it to the FBI. He was charged with making a false statement to federal authorities about his reputed financial relationship with the Chinese government. American campuses are vulnerable. China has long targeted American academia to plunder innovation. Paid researchers and graduate students who are actually in the Chinese Army are only part of the problem. Soft power influence operations shape university activities. China has also made a push to influence K-12 education with “friendly” messaging and language instruction. China is after much more than defense technology. Think the economic espionage is just about jet engine designs? Not so. China is truly waging economic warfare across business sectors. “The Chinese have targeted companies producing everything from proprietary rice and corn seeds, to software for wind turbines, to high-end medical devices,” Wray said. China has even tried to steal the formula for Oreo white frosting. No place in America is safe from China’s influence operations. U.S. Attorney Jay Town from the Northern District of Alabama noted that companies of interest to China are found all across America. “Targets for China are not just in big cities. They are everywhere,” Town said. China targets “almost every industry in America,” added U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox, who works in Texas. In her experience, often “CEOs can’t believe they’d be a target.” Watching Chinese activity is not racial profiling. National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina said: “We hear pushback in the government that this is a racial issue. I totally disagree. This is a fact-based issue.” Chinese law compels Chinese companies and Chinese nationals to assist with espionage when requested. Chinese military and security services make economic espionage part of their mission. FBI officials speaking Thursday made clear their job is to protect those who come to the U.S. to lead a better life. There are “literal agents of the Chinese government coming to control Chinese nationals,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, whose territory includes Boston. These shocking facts paved the way for Part Two of Thursday’s campaign, which was Attorney General Barr’s case for a massive effort to block China’s 5G dominance. Barr advocated something close to wartime measures to counter China. The attorney general called out China’s “technological blitzkrieg” and invoked Sputnik, referring to the 1957 launch by the Soviet Union of the world’s first space satellite. China’s Huawei already has 40 percent of the 5G rapid, high-capacity wireless market around the world. If the U.S. allows China to build out 5G networks worldwide, the U.S. will surrender “unprecedented leverage” to China, Barr said. “Within the next five years, 5G global territory and application dominance will be determined,” Barr predicted. He wants the U.S. to build out its own spectrum, then harness industry, allies and wireless firms Nokia of Finland and Ericsson of Sweden into a massive partnership to stave off a worldwide takeover of 5G by China’s Huawei. Barr’s 5G plan faces hurdles inside the U.S. government and with businesses. But the case laid out by Barr, Wray and others at the conference Thursday was beyond dispute. America must take the initiative to counter China across the board – or suffer economic consequences that could take away America’s prosperity and global power.

Thanks to Dr. Rebecca Grant, PhD, for that sobering piece. Dr. Grant is a national security analyst based in Washington, D.C. She earned her Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics at age 25 then worked for RAND and on the staff of the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Since founding IRIS Independent Research, she has specialized in research for government and aerospace industry clients ranging from analysis of military campaigns to projects on major technology acqusition such as the B-21 bomber. Follow her on Twitter at @rebeccagrantdc

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