US Officials: China Tops List of
December 13, 2018
Top U.S. officials are sounding new alarms about China, warning that
Beijing, more than Russia, poses the most serious long-term threat to
the United States.
The officials, from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the
Justice Department, say the Chinese are increasingly targeting U.S.
vulnerabilities in cyberspace, as well as leveraging some members of the
Chinese diaspora to steal secrets and threaten U.S. national security.
"This is the most severe counterintelligence threat facing our country
today," Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI's
Counterintelligence Division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on
"We need an even broader response," he said, warning that U.S. actions
to date have not been adequate. "What hangs in the balance is not just
the future of the United States, but the future of the world."
Justice Department officials said that between 2011 and 2018, more than
90 percent of the department's nation-state espionage cases involved
China, and that the pace of Chinese operations was increasing.
"The playbook is simple: Rob, replicate and replace," Assistant Attorney
General John Demers told lawmakers. "Rob the American company of its
intellectual property, replicate that technology, and replace the
American company in the Chinese market and one day in the global
Priestap and Demers were neither the first nor the most high-ranking
U.S. officials to warn of the threat posed by China.
In September, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats cautioned
that Beijing's "methodical" approach, combined with its prowess in
cyberspace, was more dangerous to the U.S. than Russia's
"China benefits from a relatively stable U.S.-China relationship and
international system that is more predictable and less contentious,"
Coats said at the time.
But the latest warnings came as the U.S. is locked in a trade dispute
with Beijing, and with tensions rising over the detention of a key
Chinese communications executive.
Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou was picked up in Canada and
is free on bail as she awaits possible extradition to the U.S. on
charges of fraud involving U.S. sanctions against Iran.
China has demanded her release, and U.S. President Donald Trump told the
Reuters news agency Tuesday that he would consider intervening if it
would benefit U.S. national security or allow him to close a trade deal
'Not a tool of trade'
Pressed during Wednesday's Senate Judiciary hearing on whether Trump's
comments could harm U.S. efforts to hold China accountable, Demers
insisted there would be no impact on the Justice Department's actions.
"What we do at the Justice Department is law enforcement. We don't do
trade," Demers said of Meng. "We are not a tool of trade when we bring
Regardless of the outcome of the case or U.S.-China trade negotiations,
U.S. security and intelligence officials believe the threat from China
will continue to grow.
"Our economy is built on a common fabric of cross-cutting systems. To
our adversaries, including China, this is a vast web of interconnected
targets," Chris Krebs, director of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and
Infrastructure Security Agency, told lawmakers Wednesday.
One of the latest victims of Beijing's opportunism appears to have been
Marriott, the U.S.-based international hotel chain, whose database,
including personal and financial information and passport numbers, was
hacked in September.
Reuters, The New York Times and other U.S. news outlets, citing
government sources, have reported the breach carries the hallmarks of
Chinese intelligence rather than criminal activity.
The reports said the hackers are suspected of working for China's
Ministry of State Security, based on the similarity of their methods to
those in previous Chinese incursions.
spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Times, "China
firmly opposes all forms of cyberattack and cracks down on it in
accordance with the law." He said if evidence was offered, Chinese
officials would investigate.
However, the threat from China goes beyond hacking, cyberattacks and
Officials said Beijing was also using some members of the Chinese
diaspora, such as tech workers and students, to help target U.S.
companies, universities and other research institutions.
"They think of them as simply an extension of their power," the FBI's
Priestap said of the Chinese nationals in the U.S.
"Some, I think, are not knowledgeable in the least and are completely
unwitting of doing anything in furtherance of their government's aims,"
he said. "Others, either through direct or other softly applied
pressure, understand that they have an obligation to meet."