The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee recently released a report on espionage threats from foreign countries such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. They warned that government intelligence agencies are lagging in staunchly defending national interests.
The 153-page report describes the various Chinese espionage operations, both human and cyber, and China’s covert maneuvers to obtain trade secrets, technology secrets, and classified information related to U.S. policy.
The investigations were conducted by independent agencies over two years and presented the challenges and weaknesses of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC). According to the report, the NCSC does not have a clear purpose, is not coordinating with other government agencies, and has limited authority. As a result, in situations of sensitive data theft or serious hacks, the intelligence agency cannot deal with such threats with quick and efficient responses.
China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia are the main risks, and other countries are also moving to steal more private information from technology companies. However, China represents the biggest threat to the U.S. “It is the big gorilla in the room,” the report emphasizes.
The vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, said, “The central problem is this … Our whole system is set up for an era when counterintelligence, basically espionage, was governments trying to steal government secrets, getting into the Department of Defense, learning about things having to do with the nation’s proprietary information and classified information. And now we’re in an era where the activities of intelligence agencies around the world come from various countries with different intentions.”
The Intelligence Committee held a hearing last September where they discussed the fundamental problems with the NCSC, which was designated to function as a key decision-making body and is part of the office of the National Intelligence Director.
At the hearing, senators, businessmen, and experts concluded that the NCSC was flawed in addressing the constant cyber attacks and hacks coming from intelligence agencies of other countries.
William Evanina, CEO of Evanina Group and former director of NCSC, was one of the experts who expressed concern during the hearing about the escalation of cyber attacks and theft of sensitive data: “The United States faces unprecedented sophistication and persistence of threats from state actors, cyber criminals, hacktivists and terrorist organizations. Corporate and academic America have become the new counterintelligence battle space for our nation’s adversaries, especially the Communist Party of China (CCP).”
“The CCP also employs, with pace and persistence, its intelligence services (MSS/People’s Liberation Army) along with strategic and programmatic efforts of science and technology investments, academic collaboration, research partnerships, joint ventures, front companies, mergers and acquisitions, as well as direct theft through insider trading and cyber intrusions.”
Other experts presented similar observations, pointing to China and Russia as the main threats to the United States.
The report highlights that foreign attackers take advantage of coordination gaps between intelligence agencies. Therefore, one suggestion is reorganizing the NCSC to operate independently, without relying on the FBI or the CIA.
China is the greatest threat to the United States
The report broadly highlights China as the greatest danger facing the United States. While it singles out China and Russia as the countries most threatening, the Asian country represents a threat that has increased in recent years.
“China is an emerging power that is approaching parity with the United States in gross domestic product, as well as in certain aspects of military power. Unlike the previous rivalry with the Soviet Union, which was military and ideological in nature, the rivalry with China is across the board, economic, technological, military, diplomatic and ideological. Moreover, the United States and China are interdependent in a way that the United States has never been with other adversaries before,” the report states.
The CCP’s infiltration methods include traditional espionage (as in the Cold War era) with agents embedded in intelligence agencies and defense departments and hacks of internal computer networks in institutions, private companies, and others. The growing number of Chinese scientists and researchers working in U.S. universities shows the CCP’s infiltration apparatus in the academic environment. The goal is the theft of scientific and technological breakthroughs.
In addition, the U.S. educational arenacriticaltant to the CCP. It is a quick and direct way to reach many students and shore up its image through Chinese language instruction in universities and colleges. In this way, the CCP secures control of public opinion by coercing educational authorities since it is the Communist Party that sets its rules in exchange for providing education and training through Confucius Institutes.
The CCP’s goal is to acquire confidential technology and artificial intelligence information to boost the advancement of the Chinese economy and strengthen military power. In addition, one of Xi Jinping’s priorities is for China to rapidly achieve technological and scientific development, to meet the goals of the “Made in China 2025” self-sufficiency plan. The ambitioprojectlan aims to replace China’s dependence on the global supply chain.
“The CCP seeks first to replace the United States as a regional power in East Asia and then eventually to replace the United States as a global hegemonic power,” the report stresses.