- FBI Director Christopher Wray has described China as “the broadest, most challenging, most significant threat we face as a country.”
- Wray’s comments come after a week of controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s response to Russian election meddling.
- Wray said that investigations into economic espionage linked to China were taking place in every US state and that China wanted to become the “sole dominant superpower.”
- China’s intelligence success is due in part to its ability to act in a “whole of state effort” and also to its capacity to take a patient, long-term view.
Amid rampant discussion about Russian election interference and espionage, FBI Director Christopher Wray has deemed China the largest, most concerning threat to the US.
Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday, Wray was asked whether he saw China as an adversary and, if so, to what level.
“I think China, from a counterintelligence perspective, in many ways represents the broadest, most challenging, most significant threat we face as a country,” Wray answered.
“And I say that because for them it is a whole of state effort. It is economic espionage as well as traditional espionage; it is nontraditional collectors as well as traditional intelligence operatives; it’s human sources as well as cyber means.
“We have economic-espionage investigations in every state, all 50 states, that trace back to China. It covers everything from corn seeds in Iowa to wind turbines in Massachusetts and everything in between. So the volume of it, the pervasiveness of it, the significance of it, is something I think this country cannot underestimate.”
The comments follow a 2017 report by the US trade representative that accused China of “trade secret theft, rampant online piracy and counterfeiting, and high levels of physical pirated and counterfeit exports.” The report found intellectual-property theft by China was costing the US up to $US600 billion annually.
It seems a far more strategic and wide-ranging effort than Russia’s ongoing interference efforts, which dominated headlines in the US this week amid President Donald Trump’s widely panned summit with President Vladimir Putin.
Wray said Russia needed to be dealt with “aggressively,” but he seemed far more concerned with what he called China’s efforts to position itself as “the sole dominant superpower, the sole dominant economic power.”
“They’re trying to replace the US in that role, and so theirs is a long-term game that’s focused on just about every industry, every quarter of society in many ways,” Wray said. “It involves academia, it involves research and development, it involves everything from agriculture to high tech. And so theirs is a more pervasive, broader approach but in many ways more of a long-term threat to the country.”
This isn’t the first time China’s patience and willingness to play the long game have been described as reasons its interference campaigns are more successful than those of Russia.
Earlier this year, John Garnaut, who led a secret government inquiry into China’s political influence in Australia, told the US House Armed Services Committee that Russia preferred “focused, sharp strikes,” while Beijing’s actions were more incremental.
“Unlike Russia, which seems to be as much for a good time rather than a long time, the Chinese are strategic, patient, and they set down foundations of organisations and very consistent narratives over a long period of time,” Garnaut told the committee.
Garnaut’s report found China had attempted to influence politics at all levels in Australia. The Australian government has since introduced new foreign-interference laws – much to Beijing’s ire – and the issue is frequently discussed and debated in the public sphere.
It’s this widespread shift toward a consensus on China’s influence and interference attempts that Wray described as “one of the bright spots” since he became FBI director just over 10 months ago.
“It’s one of the few things I’ve seen that, in a country where it feels like some people can’t even agree on what day of the week it is, on this I think people are starting to come together,” Wray said.
“I see it in the interagency, I see it up on the Hill when I’m talking to the intelligence committees across the spectrum. I think people are starting to wake up and rub the cobwebs, or sleep, out of their eyes. And my hope is we’re in a moment where we can pivot and start to take this much more seriously.”
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