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FBI: China attacking US in massive campaign including cyber, propaganda, economic espionage and more

Director Christopher Wray spoke at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance Summit in Washington (Federal Bureau of Investigation/Flickr)
July 07, 2020

China is conducting a massive theft campaign in the U.S. in its quest to become the world’s top superpower, FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a policy speech on Tuesday.

“China is engaged in a highly sophisticated, malign foreign influence campaign. Its methods include bribery, blackmail and covert deals,” Wray said during his speech at the Hudson Institute. “China is engaged in a whole of state effort to become the world’s only superpower through any means necessary.”

Wray said the scale of China’s efforts has amassed to one of the greatest threats to America.

“The greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality, is the counter intelligence and economic espionage threat from China,” Wray said. “It’s a threat to our economic security, and by extension, our national security.”

China employs “a diverse range of sophisticated techniques” including cyber theft, physical theft, and corrupting insiders, Wray said.

“China doesn’t hesitate to use smoke, mirrors, and misdirection to influence Americans,” he explained.

Through cyber hacking and intrusions, China obtained the sensitive personal data of 150 million Americans in 2017, the personal data of 80 million Anthem health insurance customers in 2015, 21 million records from the federal Office of Personnel Management in 2014, and more.

“It’s the people of the United States who are the victims of what amounts of Chinese theft on a scale so massive, that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history,” Wray said. “If you’re an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has stolen your personal data.”

China also targets U.S. researchers through China’s Thousand Talent Program, in which it entices the researchers to hand over trade secrets to China for significant amounts of money.  One researcher alone, Hongjin Tan, handed over $1 billion worth of trade secrets from his former employer, a U.S. petroleum company, to China.

“Over the past decade, we’ve seen economic espionage cases with a link to China increase by approximately 1,300 percent,” Wray noted.

More recently, China has also harnessed social media in identifying U.S. citizens working in positions with access to sensitive government data, then targeting those people, either through cyber intrusions, or with monetary offers in exchange for information.

“If China’s more direct, overt influence campaign doesn’t do the trick, they sometimes turn to indirect, covert, deceptive influence efforts,” Wray said.

Wray said the FBI opens a new China-related intelligence case every 10 hours, and almost half of the agency’s 5,000 active counterintelligence cases are related to China.

“China, as led by the Chinese Communist Party, is going to continue to try to misappropriate our ideas, influence our policymakers, manipulate our public opinion, and steal our data. They will use an all-tools and all-sectors approach—and that demands our own all-tools and all-sectors approach in response,” Wray added.