17 December 2018

FBI: China threatens 'the future of the world’

Chinese spying threatens “not just the future of the United States, but the future of the world,” a senior FBI official told lawmakers Wednesday.

“We are being exploited by China, so we are right to shore up our defenses against this,” E.W. Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Our efforts must inspire other nations to preserve similar systems. We must persuade them to choose freedom, reciprocity, and the rule of law. What hangs in the balance is not just the future of the United States, but the future of the world.”

Priestap, who is due to retire at the end of this month, painted a dire picture of Chinese spycraft, warning that the Communist regime uses an array of unconventional intelligence assets to pilfer American secrets both from the government and the private sector. He urged lawmakers to brace for “a hypercompetitive world” in which China uses economic theft to cement their status as a major international power.

“Make no mistake: The Chinese government is proposing itself as an alternative model for the world, one without a democratic system of government, and it is seeking to undermine the free and open rules-based order we helped establish following World War II,” he said in his prepared testimony. “Our businesses and our government must adapt in order to compete and thrive in this world.”

Priestap invoked the Cold War with the Soviet Union repeatedly as a model for the U.S.-China rivalry, though he discouraged against assessing the fight in military terms. “The Chinese government understands a core lesson of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union: Economic strength is the foundation of national power,” he said. “The competition between the United States and China will be greatly influenced, if not ultimately decided, on the strength of our economies.”

His warning echoed the assessment offered by a senior CIA official in July. “At the end of the day, the Chinese fundamentally seek to replace the United States as the leading power in the world,” Michael Collins, the CIA’s deputy assistant director for the East Asia Mission Center, said during the Aspen Security Forum. “What they're waging against us is fundamentally a cold war.”

Priestap also affirmed FBI Director Chris Wray’s view that Chinese espionage represents a whole-of-society threat, though he stipulated that not every Chinese national is a spy.

"Not meaning every person in the society is posing the threat but people from all walks of life — you can't effectively combat that threat with ad hoc responses,” he said. “We need more people in government, more people in business, more people in academia pulling in the same direction to combat this threat effectively.”

That said, the Chinese spy services regard expatriate students and workers in the United States as potential assets. “[The intelligence officials] think of them as — just simply an extension of their power, of their nation,” Priestap said. “Based on FBI interaction with some of those individuals, it really is a case-by-case basis. Some I think are not knowledgeable in the least and are completely unwitting of doing anything in furtherance of their government aims. And, others either through direct or other softly applied pressure understand that they have obligations to meet.”

Priestap suggested that the U.S. government coordinate with academic institutions and major companies, in addition to outreach to incoming Chinese nationals, to mitigate the risk of potential espionage.

“However, we must also make certain that, as we address the loopholes and vulnerabilities within our system, we do not simultaneously undermine the open, free, and fair principles that have made it thrive,” he testified.

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