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US must counter China’s growing espionage efforts, former CIA analyst says

The Chinese national flag. (Flickr/Gary Lerude)
March 26, 2018

As China’s ability to spy on the rest of the world continues to increase, the U.S. in particular has taken great steps in ensuring the America’s security and privacy.

Congress has continually warned about using smartphones from Chinese brands such as Huaewei, and the Trump Administration has even proposed a new centralized 5G network in order to combat potential cybersecurity threats.

However, Axios reported last week that China’s ambition in building a vast foreign intelligence network is growing, and analysts suggest that the U.S. currently may not have the means to properly counter China’s efforts.

China continues to invest billions on building vast foreign intelligence networks, including inside the United States. Yet Chris Johnson, a former senior China analyst for the CIA now working at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Axios: “We have to at least live up to [China’s] expectations. And we aren’t doing that.”

Johnson outlined that China’s intelligence efforts include “looking more and more like the Russians,” that China is “clearly becoming more aggressive,” and unlike the U.S., “they’ll actually devote the resources to it.”

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned earlier this month that China will likely spend $8 billion in 68 different countries this year to undermine American influence and strengthen its reach.

For the last few years, China primarily focused on seeking intelligence for economic applications. However, Johnson explained that China has increasingly sought intelligence for political purposes. Beijing also appears to be aiming at growing its presence in the Middle East, which Axios classified as an intelligence-gathering hotspot, a region where China has not traditionally been a key player.

While China seems to be interested in spreading its influence worldwide, what might be more concerning is the fact that China has already been caught infiltrating U.S. intelligence agencies like the CIA.

In January, the FBI arrested Jerry Chun Sing Lee, a 53-year-old former CIA agent based in China who was accused of leaking information to the Chinese and ultimately systematically broke down and endangered the CIA’s spy network in China.

David Wise, a historian and China expert, wrote in the New York Times: “The Chinese may take years to develop a source and plant one inside American intelligence organizations. But they have managed to do just that inside the FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon and the State Department.”

Back in February, FBI Director Christopher Wray summed up his concerns to the Senate Intelligence Committee: “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-of-government threat, but a whole-of-society threat on their end. And I think it’s going to take a whole-of-society response by us.”