FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, on January 31, 2022.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images
The threat posed to the West by the Chinese government is “more cheeky” and harmful than ever before, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Monday night when he accused Beijing of stealing US ideas and innovation and launching massive hacking operations.
The speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library constituted a stinging reprimand by the Chinese government a few days before Beijing is to take the global stage by hosting the Winter Olympics. It made clear that while US foreign policy remains engulfed by tensions between Russia and Ukraine, the US continues to regard China as its biggest threat to long-term economic security.
“When we look at what we see in our surveys, of which over 2,000 are focused on the Chinese government trying to steal our information or technology, there is just no country that poses a broader threat to our ideas, innovation and economic security. than China. “Wray said according to a copy of the speech provided by the FBI.
The agency opens new cases to counter Chinese intelligence operations every 12 hours or so, Wray said, with Chinese government hackers stealing more personal and corporate data than any other country combined.
“The damage from the Chinese government’s economic espionage is not just that its companies are moving forward based on illegally obtained technology. As they pull ahead, they are pushing our companies and workers backwards,” Wray said. “The damage – corporate failure, job loss – has built up over a decade to the hug we feel today. It’s damage felt across the country, by workers in a wide range of industries.”
Chinese officials have repeatedly denied accusations from the US government, with the spokesman for the embassy in Washington last July saying that the Americans have “made baseless attacks” and malicious smears about Chinese cyber attacks. The statement described China as a “strong defender of cyber security.”
The threat from China is hardly new, but it has not abated over the past decade either.
“I’ve talked a lot about this threat since I became director,” in 2017, Wray said. “But I want to focus on this tonight because it’s reached a new level – more naughty, more harmful than ever before, and it’s crucial – crucial – that we all focus on that threat.”
In 2014, the Justice Department accused five Chinese military officers of hacking large U.S. companies. A year later, the United States and China announced an agreement in the White House not to steal each other’s intellectual property or trade secrets for commercial gain.
In the years since, however, the United States has continued to accuse China of hacking and espionage. It has accused Chinese hackers of attacking companies developing vaccines against coronavirus, and of launching a massive digital attack on Microsoft Exchange e-mail server software, and has also blacklisted a wide range of Chinese companies.
In his speech, Wray cited as an example the case of a Chinese intelligence officer who was convicted of economic espionage last November for targeting an advanced engine from GE that Chinese state-owned companies were working to copy.
But there have also been some setbacks. Although the FBI director on Monday night mentioned that the agency was working to protect academic research and innovation at American colleges and universities, he did not discuss the much-criticized China initiative.
This effort by the Ministry of Justice was created in 2018 to counter economic espionage and to protect against research theft, but critics have accused investigators of scrutinizing researchers and professors on the basis of ethnicity and for intimidating academic collaboration. Earlier this month, prosecutors dropped a fraud case against a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, saying they could no longer meet their burden of proof.
The department is reviewing the fate of the China initiative and expects to publish the results soon.