FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a major policy address Tuesday that Chinese intelligence and government agents are actively subverting U.S. policies through bribery, blackmail and covert influence operations.
The operations are part of other intelligence activities to recruit spies and steal information.
“The greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information, intellectual property and to our economic vitality is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China,” Mr. Wray said in speech at the Hudson Institute, one of a series by top Trump administration officials to highlight the political, economy and security challenge posed by China’s ruling Communist Party.
Mr. Wray said the Chinese operations range from traditional spying, cyberattacks and data theft to illicit technology acquisition and “malign” subversion and influence operations.
The covert influence operations targeting American officials are “pernicious” and are underway nonstop “24-7,” he said, and involved both intelligence operatives and Chinese diplomats.
“China is engaged in a highly sophisticated, malign foreign influence campaign,” Mr. Wray said. “Its methods include bribery, blackmail and covert deals.”
The targets have been not only the government and American businesses, but ordinary citizens as well. The FBI director described the Chinese theft as “on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.”
The speech revealed more details about Chinese intelligence operations than the FBI has ever made public, Mr. Wray said.
White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien spoke about the China problem last week and additional speeches are planned by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General Bill Barr.
Mr. Wray said Chinese intelligence operations to influence U.S. policy toward Taiwan are an example of the coercion carried out by Beijing aimed at preventing U.S. support for Taipei, an unofficial U.S. ally. China considered Taiwan a renegade province which must be absorbed back into the mainland’s control.
American officials who voice support for Taiwan or announced plans to travel to the island are targeted in both overt and covert influence operations, using paid agents or other influencers in the U.S. media, he said.
The pressure has resulted in American news outlets “self-censoring” in ways designed to avoid upsetting China’s government. Beijing routinely restricts travel to China for anyone viewed as opposing the Chinese Communist Party-ruled system, Mr. Wray said.
The objective is to “sway our government policies and distort our public discussion” in a bid to undermine U.S. support for places like Taiwan and Hong Kong, where pro-democracy advocates are facing new repression from a recently-imposed mainland security law, Mr. Wray said.
In addition to influence operations, Chinese government activities include large-scale hacking of Americans’ personal information and theft of U.S. intellectual property on a massive scale.
Chinese hackers have obtained personal data on half the U.S. population and most of the adult population, including from the Equifax credit reporting company, Anthem health care company and the Office of Personnel Management, which holds records on federal employees.
China also has targeted American university professors and researchers, including Harvard’s Charles Lieber, chairman of the chemistry department, who has been charged with making false statements about his payments from China.
One Chinese agent stole more than $1 billion worth of proprietary technology from an Oklahoma petroleum company, Mr. Wray said, as an example of the problem.
“This kind of thing is happening over and over across the country,” he said.
Chinese intelligence activities are so prevalent that the FBI opens a new counterspy case on average every 10 hours, Mr. Wray said.
Another problem is that China’s Ministry of Public Security conducts covert efforts to coerce and threaten Chinese dissidents in the United States and elsewhere outside China.
Mr. Wray said teams of MPS agents take part in what the Chinese call “Fox Hunt” operations.
“These people are essentially engaged in rogue law enforcement … suppressing dissent and trying to pressure citizens,” he said.
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