Despite America’s focus on Russia’s ongoing efforts to exert influence over the American people, FBI Director Christopher Wray made a point not to lose sight of what many consider to be a far more significant threat to America’s long-term security: China. While Russia’s use of hybrid warfare and disinformation tactics against the American people can have a real and lasting effect on the security of the nation, few players on the global stage represent such a direct threat to America’s military and diplomatic efforts around the globe than China.
“I think China, from a counterintelligence perspective, in many ways, represents the broadest, most challenging, most significant threat we face as a country,” Wray said at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday. “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. ”
China’s use of espionage is not only broad and far-reaching, but it has also manifested in their defense initiatives in occasionally blatant forms. China gained access to the Lockheed Martin’s plans for the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by 2014 from Chinese national Su Bin, who is now serving a four-year sentence in prison for the crime. Those plans led directly to China’s subsequent J-20 and J-31 programs, both of which bear such a striking resemblance to the American aircraft they copied that it almost seems like China wanted the U.S. to know what they’d done.
Last month, Chinese hackers infiltrated another unnamed defense contractor, making off with over 600 gigabytes worth of classified information pertaining to the U.S. Navy’s undersea warfare efforts. While much of what was stolen remains classified at large, one result of the hack was the revelation of a previously classified anti-ship weapon the Navy had been developing under the shroud of secrecy. Although, as Wray pointed out, China’s espionage efforts extend well beyond the defense sector.
“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.”
While America tends to engross itself in what could be considered “the short game,” engaging in domestic political warfare over the office of president that guarantees a change in leadership a minimum of once every eight years, China (who recently did away with term limits for President Xi Jinping) has long been engaged in the “long game,” seeking to replace America as the dominant diplomatic and political power in the world.
“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.”
Despite his concerns about China’s efforts to unseat the United States as the planet’s sole superpower, he was quick to point out that Russia’s aggressive behavior is not a threat that can be dismissed either. Russia has proven surprisingly agile in their use of hybrid warfare techniques against the American people. Their influence efforts, often conveyed through state-owned media outlets and pervasive use of social media, extend far behind attempting to influence voters in 2016’s presidential election. Russia’s influence didn’t trickle to a stop following Donald Trump’s victory, if anything, one could argue it was emboldened by the social unrest that followed.
“To me, it’s a threat that we need to take extremely seriously and respond to with fierce determination and focus,” Wray said of Russian efforts to manipulate the last presidential election. He went on to say that the FBI was working on developing strategies to help inform the American people about the disinformation campaign, adding that he encourages the public to “think critically” about what they read.
Featured image: FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 28, 2018, on Justice Department and FBI actions around the 2016 presidential election. | AP Photo/Andrew Harnik