On Wednesday, former Director of the United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) Bill Evanina said China employs “nontraditional collectors” of information either living or working in the U.S. who will end up “unwittingly working for the Communist Party” and passing along sensitive information to the Chinese government.
“Nontraditional collectors,” Evanina told the Senate Intelligence Committee, are “either wittingly or unwittingly working for the Communist Party of China” and “don’t know they’re lobbyists and don’t know they’re here registering as a foreign agent. Most likely they’re not and oftentimes they conduct high-level research at a ceramics lab or an institute and then get a phone call one day by someone back home. They don’t know that they are an agent of a foreign power and they don’t know that they are a lobbyist.”
Evanina said that of the approximately 328,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S., all of them are “forced to have Chinese phones with WeChat so the Chinese can monitor them here. So when you are here, whether as a student or researcher, and you get a call from the [China’s] Ministry of State Security asking you to do something for them and your grandmother is sick or your father needs a job, you are going to do whatever they ask you to do.”
Evanina served as the NCSC director from June 2014 through to the end of President Donald Trump’s presidential term on January 20, 2021. Evanina joined Former Deputy National Advisor for the White House Matt Pottinger and Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) senior fellow Anna Puglisi in testifying about the foreign surveillance threats posed by the Chinese government.
Evanina and Puglisi warned about the potential that “nontraditional collectors” such as Chinese students, can enter the U.S. expecting to advance their education and then find themselves pressured to gather intelligence for the Chinese government.
In December, the Department of Justice assessed that more than 1,000 Chinese researchers in the U.S. fled the country amid DOJ efforts in the months prior to the crackdown on China’s theft of U.S. research.
Evanina also said during the hearing, “The Insider Threat epidemic originating from the CCP has been nothing short of devastating to the U.S. corporate world.”
Evanina also described efforts by the Chinese government to win favor with sometimes unwitting state and local officials in the U.S.
“The Communist Party of China strategically conducts malign influence campaigns at the state and local level of the United States with precision,” Evanina said.
Evanina called malign foreign influence a “new frontier” for countries like China and Russia to exploit the U.S.
Evanina noted the U.S. State Department operates the Global Engagement Center as a way of coordinating U.S. counterterrorism messaging to foreign audiences. “We don’t have a Domestic Engagement Center to help advise and inform Americans as to how to identify where that [foriegn] influence is and what might be true and what might not be true from that website. So I do think we have a hole to fill with respect to understanding malign foreign influence and to help Americans.”