and the Chinese Communist Party to the Economic and National Security of
the United States
Walter Russell Mead & Christopher Wray
Walter Russell Mead: Well, hello. And thank you for joining today’s event
at Hudson Institute, where we are all appropriately masked and physically
distancing. We’re here with FBI director, Christopher Wray. And it’s my
pleasure to be physically back at the office, and it’s an honor to join
the director in today’s conversation. Christopher Wray currently serves
as the eighth director of the FBI. Throughout his career, he has served in
a number of roles within the federal government, including as the principal
associate attorney general in the office of the deputy attorney general,
where he oversaw investigations conducted by the DOJ’s law enforcement
In 2003, President George W. Bush nominated Mr. Wray as the assistant
attorney general for DOJ’s criminal division, where he oversaw major
investigations into domestic and international criminal activities. He also
oversaw the DOJ’s counter terrorism, counterintelligence, and export
control sections. Mr. Wray was instrumental in the DOJ’s post 9/11
efforts to combat terrorism, cyber crime, and international espionage.
Today, Mr. Wray joins us to discuss China’s ongoing efforts to interfere
in the United States domestic affairs through espionage, disinformation
campaigns, intellectual property theft, and monetary theft. It is my
pleasure to welcome Director Wray to the Hudson Institute.
Christopher Wray: Well, thank you, Walter.
Good morning. I realize it’s challenging to put on an event like this
under the current circumstances, so I’m grateful to the Hudson Institute
for hosting us today.
The greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and
intellectual property, and to our economic vitality, is the
counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China. It’s a
threat to our economic security—and by extension, to our national
As National Security Advisor O’Brien said in his recent remarks, we
cannot close our eyes and ears to what China is doing—and today, in light
of the importance of this threat, I’ll provide more detail on the Chinese
threat than the FBI has ever presented in an open forum. This threat is so
significant that the attorney general and secretary of state will also be
addressing a lot of these issues in the next few weeks. But if you think
these issues are merely a government problem, or just an intelligence
issue, or a nuisance largely just for big corporations who can take care of
themselves—you couldn’t be more wrong.
It’s the people of the United States who are the victims of what amounts
to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the
largest transfers of wealth in human history.
If you are an American adult, it is more likely than not that China has
stolen your personal data.
In 2017, the Chinese military conspired to hack Equifax and made off with
the sensitive personal information of 150 million Americans—we’re
talking nearly half of the American population and most American
adults—and as I’ll discuss in a moment, this was hardly a standalone
Our data isn’t the only thing at stake here—so are our health, our
livelihoods, and our security.
We’ve now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related
counterintelligence case about every 10 hours. Of the nearly 5,000 active
FBI counterintelligence cases currently under way across the country,
almost half are related to China. And at this very moment, China is working
to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies,
and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.
But before I go on, let me be clear: This is not about the Chinese people,
and this is certainly not about Chinese Americans. Every year, the United
States welcomes more than 100,000 Chinese students and researchers into
this country. For generations, people have journeyed from China to the
United States to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their
families—and our society is better for their contributions. So, when I
speak of the threat from China, I mean the government of China and the
Chinese Communist Party.
The Chinese Regime and the Scope of Its Ambitions
To understand this threat and how we must act to respond to it, the
American people should remember three things.
First: We need to be clear-eyed about the scope of the Chinese
government’s ambition. China—the Chinese Communist Party—believes it
is in a generational fight to surpass our country in economic and
That is sobering enough. But it’s waging this fight not through
legitimate innovation, not through fair and lawful competition, and not by
giving their citizens the freedom of thought and speech and creativity that
we treasure here in the United States. Instead, China is engaged in a
whole-of-state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means
A Diverse and Multi-Layered Approach
The second thing the American people need to understand is that China uses
a diverse range of sophisticated techniques—everything from cyber
intrusions to corrupting trusted insiders. They’ve even engaged in
outright physical theft. And they’ve pioneered an expansive approach to
stealing innovation through a wide range of actors—including not just
Chinese intelligence services, but state-owned enterprises, ostensibly
private companies, certain kinds of graduate students and researchers, and
a variety of other actors working on their behalf.
To achieve its goals and surpass America, China recognizes it needs to make
leaps in cutting-edge technologies. But the sad fact is that instead of
engaging in the hard slog of innovation, China often steals American
intellectual property and then uses it to compete against the very American
companies it victimized, in effect cheating twice over. They’re targeting
research on everything from military equipment to wind turbines to rice and
Through its talent recruitment programs, like the so-called Thousand
Talents Program, the Chinese government tries to entice scientists to
secretly bring our knowledge and innovation back to China—even if that
means stealing proprietary information or violating our export controls and
Take the case of scientist Hongjin Tan, for example, a Chinese national and
American lawful permanent resident. He applied to China’s Thousand
Talents Program, stole more than $1 billion worth of trade secrets from his
former employer, an Oklahoma-based petroleum company, and got caught. A few
months ago, he was convicted and sent to prison.
Or there’s the case of Shan Shi, a Texas-based scientist, also sentenced
to prison earlier this year. Shi stole trade secrets regarding syntactic
foam, an important naval technology used in submarines. Shi, too, had
applied to China’s Thousand Talents Program, and specifically pledged to
“digest” and “absorb” the relevant technology in the United States.
He did this on behalf of Chinese state-owned enterprises, which ultimately
planned to put the American company out of business and take over the
In one of the more galling and egregious aspects of the scheme, the
conspirators actually patented in China the very manufacturing process
they’d stolen, and then offered their victim American company a joint
venture using its own stolen technology. We’re talking about an American
company that spent years and millions of dollars developing that
technology, and China couldn’t replicate it—so, instead, it paid to
have it stolen.
And just two weeks ago, Hao Zhang was convicted of economic espionage,
theft of trade secrets, and conspiracy for stealing proprietary information
about wireless devices from two U.S. companies. One of those companies had
spent over 20 years developing the technology Zhang stole.
These cases were among more than a thousand investigations the FBI has into
China’s actual and attempted theft of American technology—which is to
say nothing of over a thousand more ongoing counterintelligence
investigations of other kinds related to China. We’re conducting these
kinds of investigations in all 56 of our field offices. And over the past
decade, we’ve seen economic espionage cases with a link to China increase
by approximately 1,300 percent.
The stakes could not be higher, and the potential economic harm to American
businesses and the economy as a whole almost defies calculation.
As National Security Advisor O’Brien discussed in his June remarks, the
Chinese government is also making liberal use of hacking to steal our
corporate and personal data—and they’re using both military and
non-state hackers to do it. The Equifax intrusion I mentioned a moment ago,
which led to the indictment of Chinese military personnel, was hardly the
only time China stole the sensitive personal information of huge numbers of
the American public.
For example, did you have health insurance through Anthem or one of its
associated insurers? In 2015, China’s hackers stole the personal data of
80 million of that company’s current and former customers.
Or maybe you’re a federal employee—or you used to be one, or you
applied for a government job once, or a family member or roommate did.
Well, in 2014, China’s hackers stole more than 21 million records from
OPM, the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management.
Why are they doing this? First, China has made becoming an artificial
intelligence world leader a priority, and these kinds of thefts feed right
into China’s development of artificial intelligence tools.
Compounding the threat, the data China stole is of obvious value as they
attempt to identify people to target for secret intelligence gathering. On
that front, China is also using social media platforms—the same ones
Americans use to stay connected or find jobs—to identify people with
access to our government’s sensitive information and then target those
people to try to steal it.
Just to pick one example, a Chinese intelligence officer posing as a
headhunter on a popular social media platform recently offered an American
citizen a sizeable sum of money in exchange for “consulting” services.
That sounds benign until you realize those “consulting” services were
related to sensitive information the American target had access to as a
U.S. military intelligence specialist.
Now that particular tale has a happy ending: The American citizen did the
right thing and reported the suspicious contact, and the FBI, working
together with our armed forces, took it from there. I wish I could say that
all such incidents worked out that way.
Threats to Academia
It’s a troublingly similar story in academia.
Through talent recruitment programs like the Thousand Talents Program I
mentioned a moment ago, China pays scientists at American universities to
secretly bring our knowledge and innovation back to China—including
valuable, federally funded research. To put it bluntly, this means American
taxpayers are effectively footing the bill for China’s own technological
development. China then leverages its ill-gotten gains to undercut U.S.
research institutions and companies, blunting our nation’s advancement
and costing American jobs. And we are seeing more and more of these cases.
In May alone, we arrested both Qing Wang, a former researcher with the
Cleveland Clinic who worked on molecular medicine and the genetics of
cardiovascular disease, and Simon Saw-Teong Ang, a University of Arkansas
scientist doing research for NASA. Both were allegedly committing fraud by
concealing their participation in Chinese talent recruitment programs while
accepting millions of dollars in American federal grant funding.
That same month, former Emory University professor Xiao-Jiang Li pled
guilty to filing a false tax return for failing to report the income he’d
received through China’s Thousand Talents Program. Our investigation
found that while Li was researching Huntington’s disease at Emory, he was
also pocketing half a million unreported dollars from China.
In a similar vein, Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard’s Department of
Chemistry and Chemical Biology, was indicted just last month for making
false statements to federal authorities about his Thousand Talents
participation. The United States has alleged that Lieber concealed from
both Harvard and the NIH his position as a strategic scientist at a Chinese
university—and the fact that the Chinese government was paying him,
through the Wuhan Institute of Technology, a $50,000 monthly stipend, more
than $150,000 in living expenses, and more than $1.5 million to establish a
laboratory back in China.
Malign Foreign Influence
There’s more. Another tool China and the Chinese Communist Party use to
manipulate Americans is what we call malign foreign influence.
Now, traditional foreign influence is a normal, legal diplomatic activity
typically conducted through diplomatic channels. But malign foreign
influence efforts are subversive, undeclared, criminal, or coercive
attempts to sway our government’s policies, distort our country’s
public discourse, and undermine confidence in our democratic processes and
China is engaged in a highly sophisticated malign foreign influence
campaign, and its methods include bribery, blackmail, and covert deals.
Chinese diplomats also use both open, naked economic pressure and seemingly
independent middlemen to push China’s preferences on American officials.
Just to take one all-too-common example, let’s say China gets wind that
an American official is planning to travel to Taiwan—think a governor, a
state senator, a member of Congress. China does not want that to happen,
because that travel might appear to legitimize Taiwanese independence from
China—and legitimizing Taiwan would be contrary, of course, to China’s
“One China” policy.
So what does China do? Well, China has leverage over the American
official’s constituents—American companies, academics, and members of
the media all have legitimate and understandable reasons to want access to
Chinese partners and markets. And because of the authoritarian nature of
the Chinese Communist Party, China has immense power over those same
partners and markets. So, China will sometimes start by trying to influence
the American official overtly and directly. China might openly warn that if
the American official travels to Taiwan, China will take it out on a
company from that official’s home state by withholding the company’s
license to manufacture in China. That could be economically ruinous for the
company, would directly pressure the American official to alter his travel
plans, and the official would know that China was trying to influence him.
That would be bad enough. But the Chinese Communist Party often doesn’t
stop there; it can’t stop there if it wants to stay in power—so it uses
its leverage even more perniciously. If China’s more direct, overt
influence campaign doesn’t do the trick, they sometimes turn to indirect,
covert, deceptive influence efforts.
To continue with the example of the American official with travel plans
that the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t like, China will work
relentlessly to identify the people closest to that official—the people
the official trusts most. China will then work to influence those people to
act on China’s behalf as middlemen to influence the official. The
co-opted middlemen may then whisper in the official’s ear and try to sway
the official’s travel plans or public positions on Chinese policy. These
intermediaries of course aren’t telling the American official that
they’re Chinese Communist Party pawns—and worse still, some of these
intermediaries may not even realize they’re being used as pawns, because
they too have been deceived.
Ultimately, China doesn’t hesitate to use smoke, mirrors, and
misdirection to influence Americans.
Similarly, China often pushes academics and journalists to self-censor if
they want to travel into China. And we’ve seen the Chinese Communist
Party pressure American media and sporting giants to ignore or suppress
criticism of China’s ambitions regarding Hong Kong or Taiwan. This kind
of thing is happening over and over, across the United States.
And I’ll note that the pandemic has unfortunately not stopped any of
this—in fact, we have heard from federal, state, and even local officials
that Chinese diplomats are aggressively urging support for China’s
handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Yes, this is happening at both the federal
and state levels. Not that long ago, we had a state senator who was
recently asked to even introduce a resolution supporting China’s response
to the pandemic.
The punchline is this: All these seemingly inconsequential pressures add up
to a policymaking environment in which Americans find themselves held over
a barrel by the Chinese Communist Party.
Threats to the Rule of Law
All the while, China’s government and Communist Party have brazenly
violated well-settled norms and the rule of law.
Since 2014, Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping has spearheaded a program
known as “Fox Hunt.” Now China describes Fox Hunt as an international
anti-corruption campaign—it’s not. Instead, Fox Hunt is a sweeping bid
by General Secretary Xi to target Chinese nationals whom he sees as threats
and who live outside China, across the world. We’re talking about
political rivals, dissidents, and critics seeking to expose China’s
extensive human rights violations.
Hundreds of the Fox Hunt victims that they target live right here in the
United States, and many are American citizens or green card holders. The
Chinese government wants to force them to return to China, and China’s
tactics to accomplish that are shocking. For instance, when it couldn’t
locate one Fox Hunt target, the Chinese government sent an emissary to
visit the target’s family here in the United States. The message they
said to pass on? The target had two options: return to China promptly, or
commit suicide. And what happens when Fox Hunt targets refuse to return to
China? In the past, their family members both here in the United States and
in China have been threatened and coerced; and those back in China have
even been arrested for leverage.
I’ll take this opportunity to note that if you believe the Chinese
government is targeting you—that you’re a potential Fox Hunt
victim—please reach out to your local FBI field office.
Exploiting Our Openness
Understanding how a nation could engage in these tactics brings me to the
third thing the American people need to remember: China has a fundamentally
different system than ours—and it’s doing all it can to exploit our
openness while taking advantage of its own, closed system.
Many of the distinctions that mean a lot in the United States are blurry or
almost nonexistent in China—distinctions between the government and the
Chinese Communist Party, between the civilian and military sectors, and
between the state and “private” industry.
For one thing, an awful lot of large Chinese businesses are state-owned
enterprises—literally owned by the government, and thus the Party. And
even if they aren’t, China’s laws allow its government to compel any
Chinese company to provide any information it requests—including American
On top of that, Chinese companies of any real size are legally required to
have Communist Party “cells” inside them to keep them in line. Even
more alarmingly, Communist Party cells have reportedly been established in
some American companies operating in China as a cost of doing business
These features should give U.S. companies pause when they consider working
with Chinese corporations like Huawei—and should give all Americans
pause, too, when relying on such a company’s devices and networks. As the
world’s largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer, Huawei has
broad access to much that American companies do in China. It’s also been
charged in the United States with racketeering conspiracy and has, as
alleged in the indictment, repeatedly stolen intellectual property from
U.S. companies, obstructed justice, and lied to the U.S. government and its
commercial partners, including banks.
The allegations are clear: Huawei is a serial intellectual property thief,
with a pattern and practice of disregarding both the rule of law and the
rights of its victims. I have to tell you, it certainly caught my attention
to read a recent article describing the words of Huawei’s founder, Ren
Zhengfei, about the company’s mindset. At a Huawei research and
development center, he reportedly told employees that to ensure the
company’s survival, they need to—and I quote—“surge forward,
killing as you go, to blaze us a trail of blood.” He’s also reportedly
told employees that Huawei has entered, to quote, “a state of war.” I
certainly hope he couldn’t have meant that literally, but it’s hardly
an encouraging tone, given the company’s repeated criminal behavior.
In our modern world, there is perhaps no more ominous prospect than a
hostile foreign government’s ability to compromise our country’s
infrastructure and devices. If Chinese companies like Huawei are given
unfettered access to our telecommunications infrastructure, they could
collect any of your information that traverses their devices or networks.
Worse still: they’d have no choice but to hand it over to the Chinese
government if asked—the privacy and due process protections that are
sacrosanct in the United States are simply non-existent in China.
Responding Effectively to the Threat
The Chinese government is engaged in a broad, diverse campaign of theft and
malign influence, and it can execute that campaign with authoritarian
efficiency. They’re calculating. They’re persistent. They’re patient.
And they aren’t subject to the righteous constraints of an open,
democratic society or the rule of law.
China, as led by the Chinese Communist Party, is going to continue to try
to misappropriate our ideas, influence our policy makers, manipulate our
public opinion, and steal our data. They will use an all-tools and
all-sectors approach—and that demands our own all-tools and all-sectors
approach in response.
Our folks at the FBI are working their tails off every day to protect our
nation’s companies, our universities, our computer networks, and our
ideas and innovation. To do that, we’re using a broad set of
techniques—from our traditional law enforcement authorities to our
I’ll briefly note that we’re having real success. With the help of our
many foreign partners, we’ve arrested targets all over the globe. Our
investigations and the resulting prosecutions have exposed the tradecraft
and techniques the Chinese use, raising awareness of the threat and our
industries’ defenses. They also show our resolve, and our ability to
attribute these crimes to those responsible. It’s one thing to make
assertions—but in our justice system, when a person, or a corporation, is
investigated and then charged with a crime, we have to prove the truth of
the allegation beyond a reasonable doubt. The truth matters—and so, these
criminal indictments matter. And we’ve seen how our criminal indictments
have rallied other nations to our cause—which is crucial to persuading
the Chinese government to change its behavior.
We’re also working more closely than ever with partner agencies here in
the U.S., and our partners abroad. We can’t do it on our own; we need a
whole-of-society response. That’s why we in the intelligence and law
enforcement communities are working harder than ever to give companies,
universities, and the American people themselves the information they need
to make their own informed decisions and protect their most valuable
Confronting this threat effectively does not mean we shouldn’t do
business with the Chinese. It does not mean we shouldn’t host Chinese
visitors. It does not mean we shouldn’t welcome Chinese students or
coexist with China on the world stage. But it does mean that when China
violates our criminal laws and international norms, we’re not going to
tolerate it, much less enable it. The FBI and our partners throughout the
U.S. government will hold China accountable and protect our nation’s
innovation, ideas, and way of life—with the help and vigilance of the
Thank you for having me here today.
Walter Russell Mead: Thank you, Director. We will be taking questions from
people who weren’t able to be here today, so if you could email any
questions you have to email@example.com. That’s H-U-D-S-O-N.org. We’ll
be happy to take a look at them. A Hudson staff member will get it. The
questions will be collated, and we’ll see if we can get your question to
the director. But before that, I have a few of my own that I’d like to
ask. And the first one is one I think that may be on the minds of a lot of
Americans who listened to your talk. And they hear that China is stealing
personal data, and that their efforts may be intensifying. What would you
suggest for Americans who are concerned about their own personal data
security from China or other hostile foreign actors?
Christopher Wray: Well, I think the American people need to be taking steps
on their own to protect their data as well, so that includes things like
changing your passwords frequently. That includes things like monitoring
your credit history and you account transactions to see if somebody may
have stolen your identity. We have a whole bunch of information about that
kind of thing on the FBI’s website. And if people have more questions,
they can reach out to their local FBI field office.
Walter Russell Mead: Okay. Great. And how would they find their local FBI
Christopher Wray: It’s pretty easy to find online.
Walter Russell Mead: Okay. Terrific. You said that there has been a trend
of increasing cooperation among different countries on this. Can you talk
about that a little bit?
Christopher Wray: Right. So one of the things that I actually have found
most encouraging in the middle of everything I just finished talking about,
is the degree of alignment and consensus that seems to be growing between
the United States and our foreign partners on this threat, on the severity
of the threat, the priority of the threat, the importance of working
together to combat the threat. I find that when I sit down with my foreign
partners, which I do all the time, that this threat, the Chinese threat, is
one of the first things they want to talk about, even when it wouldn’t be
necessarily on my agenda. And I see the same thing, frankly, happening with
the business community, with academia, both here in the US and elsewhere.
In fact, in many ways, in a time in this country where things often seem so
divisive, sometimes it feels like people in this country can’t even agree
on what day of the week it is. On this threat, on the Chinese threat, on
the seriousness of it, on the priority of it, on the need to come together
to tackle the threat, I’m actually seeing a level of alignment and
consensus, bipartisan, across the both public and private sector, with
academia, and as you noted in your question, with foreign partners, in a
way that I’ve never seen in my career. And I think that’s good news.
Walter Russell Mead: That is certainly different from a lot of the
narrative that we hear. Do you get any sense that China is targeting the
November elections? Do you have any special concerns about that?
Christopher Wray: Well, I would say that of course China’s malign foreign
influence campaign targets our policies, our positions, 24/7, 365 days a
year. So it’s not an election specific threat. It’s really more of an
all year, all the time threat. But certainly, that has implications for
elections. And they certainly have preferences that go along with that.
Walter Russell Mead: And what are the issues that you see the most Chinese
influence campaign, most of this malign foreign influence campaign around?
You’d mentioned Taiwan. Are there others?
Christopher Wray: Taiwan, Hong Kong, any calling out of Chinese oppression,
of dissidence, human rights, the Uyghurs. China’s response to the COVID
pandemic, there’s a long list of things. In some ways, China’s
government’s own policies and positions and preferences are pretty well
known. What’s more pernicious is their more indirect way to try to shape
our policy makers on that threat in ways that sometimes our policy makers
aren’t even aware of.
Walter Russell Mead: You mentioned some of those in the talk. Can you go
beyond that to talk about ways that China seeks to exert this kind of
Christopher Wray: Well, as a general rule, if you have a question about
whether the Chinese use this tactic or that tactic, think of it like a
multiple choice question, where the last option is all of the above, and
you’re usually going to be right. But one of the threats that we’re
concerned about in particular is what I would call the more indirect, but
equally significant, in some ways more significant influence through
middlemen. So for example, if you’re a governor, a state senator, a
mayor, you probably are sophisticated enough to know that when the
representative of the Chinese embassy comes in and starts telling you that
you got it all wrong about Hong Kong or Taiwan, to at least be a little bit
on your guard and take it with a grain of salt.
But what if the person who comes in and talks to you is somebody you’ve
known for 10 or 15 years, maybe a prominent donor to your campaign, or some
business that you’ve had a relationship with in the past, somebody you
trust? And that person comes in and says, “Hey, Walter. I think you got
it all wrong on this Hong Kong thing. You really should back off. I think
you’re overplaying your hand.” Now if the person came in and said,
“Hey, I just had this guy from the Chinese embassy ask me to tell you
this,” then, sure.
Walter Russell Mead: Right.
Christopher Wray: But that’s probably not what’s happening in most of
these instances. And that’s where you need to have all the information,
so you as the government, mayor, senator, member of Congress,
administration official, know what you’re dealing with.
Walter Russell Mead: When it comes to universities, China has a lot of
possible points of leverage, from, as you’ve mentioned, allowing scholars
to come visit China, which is necessary for some, to cooperation
agreements, but also, I guess we could add student recruitment and so on.
Do you see signs that China tries to orchestrate its various sort of
instruments here to try to move universities to accept certain things?
Christopher Wray: Well, certainly they look to try to influence academics.
We see that quite frequently. We see them try to recruit academics through
things like the thousand talents plan that I described before. We also have
things, and I’ve spoken about this before, that are more sort of soft
power, the Confucius Institutes that are in a lot of American colleges and
universities, which are efforts to censor or kind of drive China friendly
speech in a decidedly unorthodox way here in the US. Now the good news
there is that more and more universities are closing those down. So in some
ways, that’s not as high a priority as a lot of the other things that I
described in my speech.
Walter Russell Mead: And these Confucius Institutes, how kind of do they
Christopher Wray: Well, it’s an effort to bring students together to
ensure that the Chinese narrative makes its way into and dominates the
conversation, if you will, on universities. I could be more specific, but
that would take longer to describe.
Walter Russell Mead: Well, let’s get back to some of the business and
technology security concerns. Are there particular areas where you see
Chinese espionage is really at a very intense level? Do they seem to have
Christopher Wray: Well, as a general rule, China has these five year plans.
And they have the made in China 2025 goal that they’ve articulated,
strategy they’ve articulated. And in general, if you look at the industry
sectors that are laid out in those plans, in that strategy, you will see a
probably less than coincidental correlation with a lot of the intellectual
property theft that I was describing. But it’s certainly aviation,
healthcare, in the middle of this COVID pandemic. It’s not unusual for us
to see right after some pharmaceutical company or research institution make
some significant announcement about some promising research related to the
pandemic, that we’ll start seeing cyber activity tracing back to China,
targeting with that institution is, sometimes almost the next day. So
aviation, healthcare, robotics, but sometimes even agriculture.
I mean, I think that’s one thing that a lot of people don’t understand.
When I mentioned that all 56 of the FBI’s field offices have
investigations of this sort, that’s not because we’re just trying to
spread the work around. That’s because the threat is all over the
country. It’s in rural areas and big cities. And it’s in Fortune 100s
all the way down to small startups.
Walter Russell Mead: Do you have any estimates for how much damage is done
to American business by this kind of espionage?
Christopher Wray: I don’t have an exact number. I think people are always
trying to come up with a figure. I will tell you that every figure I’ve
seen is breathtaking.
Walter Russell Mead: So billions, and not just a few billions.
Christopher Wray: Right. Take just the one case I mentioned in Oklahoma,
where you had an individual, that’s one guy, stealing $1 billion worth of
trade secrets from one company. And then extrapolate that across the
thousand or so investigations that I described that are all specifically in
the area of Chinese attempted theft of US technology.
Walter Russell Mead: Is there legislative authority that you don’t have,
that you would like?
Christopher Wray: Well, you’ve probably never met an FBI director that
wouldn’t welcome more tools. I will say Congress has done a number of
valuable things to help us, including for example, not that long ago, they
amended CFIUS, which is the legislative scheme, for those who don’t know,
that deals with acquisitions, foreign acquisitions in the United States.
And that’s often a place where some of the more sensitive information can
be compromised through foreign acquisition. So they’ve plugged some of
the holes that existed in that scheme before, that statutory scheme, and
made it more possible for the national security community to appropriately
protect American information.
Walter Russell Mead: Okay. I’ve got some questions coming in from the
audience at this point. One is asking, “How prevalent is the Foxhunt
problem within the US and Europe? And could you discuss any other similar
tactics the CCP is conducting?”
Christopher Wray: In terms of the prevalence of the Foxhunt efforts, I
think we’ve seen hundreds just here in the United States, hundreds of you
could call them targets, you could call them victims, frankly, hundreds of
individuals that the Chinese government is trying to reach and coerce. It
also is happening, as I said in my speech, in other countries too. In terms
of the tactics, it’s a variety of means of coercion. We’ve had
situations where they show up and make comments about their family members
back home in China in a way that is pretty unmistakably threatening. If you
use your imagination, you’re not going to be far off.
Walter Russell Mead: And have we been working with other governments to try
to counter this? Again, from the readers and watchers.
Christopher Wray: Well, we certainly have worked with a lot of our good
foreign partners to compare notes, best practices, and so forth to try to
combat the Foxhunt threat. But there’s another part of coordination
that’s important here. I mean, at one level, there is an established
means. There are established processes for foreign law enforcement to
cooperate with each other, legitimate foreign cooperation happens all the
time all over the world. And there’s a way you do that, and you
coordinate with law enforcement in the country that the person is in.
That’s not what Foxhunt is. These people are essentially engaged in rogue
law enforcement, unsanctioned, uncoordinated with US law enforcement here
in the United States. And that really exposes what this is really about,
which is suppressing dissent, and trying to pressure dissidents and
Walter Russell Mead: What can the world’s countries do to make this
response to Chinese questionable conduct more urgent and more of an actual
deterrent to China?
Christopher Wray: I think the more we can communicate collectively, nations
around the world, that we welcome competition. We welcome academic
exchange. We welcome travel. But rampant IP theft is not okay. Cyber
intrusions into people’s personal data, not okay. Economic espionage, not
okay. So it’s about the behavior. And the more we can communicate that
part of participating in a global economy is playing by the rules that
other nations play by, adhering to the rule of law and international norms
that civilized countries respect, the more hopefully the Chinese government
will adjust its behavior and understand that there’s a right way to
compete and there’s a wrong way to compete. But if they keep violating
our criminal laws and undermining our national security, they’re going to
keep encountering the FBI.
Walter Russell Mead: Another one of the viewers would like to know whether
there’s some kind of global institutional framework that’s needed to
fight this IP theft or tech security theft.
Christopher Wray: Well, certainly, there are … I think that’s being
addressed through a variety of means with some improvement. But clearly, a
long way to go. Nations working together in a bilateral way, but also
multilateral. There are international standard setting bodies, for example,
of all shapes and sizes that both we, and to some extent the Chinese, as
well as other nations participate in, and nations coming together in those
kinds of forums to make clear again that there are rules. And no country I
know thinks stealing somebody else’s property is okay.
Walter Russell Mead: Another question. In the recent case of a Chinese
national convicted of trespassing on Naval Air Station Key West, the person
was found to be working for China’s Ministry of Public Security, not the
Ministry of State Security of the PLA intelligence. Is the FBI seeing China
use the Ministry of Public Security for intelligence operations against the
Christopher Wray: Well, I mean, I would say that the Foxhunt effort, for
example, is more through the MPS than it is the MSS or the PLA. But as a
general rule, an awful lot of the kinds of things I was describing in my
remarks are more geared towards the MSS and the PLA.
Walter Russell Mead: I have another viewer who would like to know more
about China’s interest in agriculture and IP theft there. Can you tell us
a little bit more about what some of their targets are and how it works?
Christopher Wray: So we certainly, the United States, is I think rightly
recognized as the world leader in agriculture and in advanced agricultural
techniques. And that includes things like genetically modified seeds and
different things like that. There’s an enormous amount of very
sophisticated research and development that happens in the world of
agriculture. And we’ve had cases in the Midwest, we’ve had cases in
places like Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, where you’ve had people trying to
steal, Chinese actors trying to steal to bring back to China to essentially
reverse engineer some of those seeds. It could be rice, corn. We had a
case, I can’t remember which state it was, not that long ago, where they
caught various non state actors working on behalf of the Chinese
government, basically digging up seeds into the cover of night to steal
them. We had another one where they were caught at the airport with the
seeds in their luggage to try to bring them back.
Walter Russell Mead: So when you look at the bulk of the cases the FBI has
thus far brought against researchers, are most of the violations procedural
and false pledges, financial malfeasance? What portion sort of specifically
looks at transmission of significant research inside IP? How does that
whole universe break down? One of our viewers would like to know.
Christopher Wray: Well, we will use whatever charges we think are the most
readily provable. And in some instances, we will choose to charge a case a
certain way to protect sources and methods, for example, because we’re
trying to take the long view. But certainly, there are a variety of
intellectual property theft type charges. But a lot of the charges I
described are about concealment at some level. Right? It’s not just the
underlying theft. It’s the concealment of the theft, and that’s where
things about that include false statement, false tax returns, things like
that become important because they’re concealing their relationship with
the Chinese government from, whether it’s American university, an
American employer, whoever it happens to be.
At the end of the day, I have high confidence in American companies,
American universities, and the American people, if given the right
information, to make informed, sensible, patriotic decisions. But when some
of these non state actors conceal their relationship with the Chinese
government, those employers, the companies, the universities, the people,
can’t make those informed decisions.
Walter Russell Mead: You’ve been talking about a sort of whole of society
approach to the problem and the importance of non governmental actors in
the US. We have a question here. Does the FBI, DOJ, have resources for
private sector entities? Or what would you counsel some of these entities
Christopher Wray: Well, in all of our FBI field offices, we have
established individuals who are entrusted with developing relationships
with businesses and universities in their area, private sector
coordinators. And that’s a new feature over the last 10 or 15 years in
the FBI. And it reflects, I think, the degree of partnership that currently
is needed and happens between the FBI and the private sector, whether
it’s again a business or a university. So the resources that we provide,
not funding, but it’s information. It’s know how. It’s information
about how they can take steps to protect their information technology,
their ideas, their innovation. And we have materials we provide. We answer
questions and things like that. And I’ve been to all 56 of the FBI’s
field offices. And in every single one, I think part of what I’ve done is
met with private sector partners in those states. And you can see the
relationship, the partnership that exists today.
Again, I want to be clear. These are institutions. I’m talking private
companies, universities that in many ways are making strictly their own …
We’re not telling them what to do. They are voluntarily deciding to
terminate a relationship to increase their cyber security, whatever it
happens to be, to protect themselves, which I think is part of the strength
of our system.
Walter Russell Mead: It’s clear that the FBI, DOJ, and other federal
entities are stepping up their pressure on this. Are you seeing signs of
China changing tactics, or even pulling back a little? Is any of this
having an impact on China?
Christopher Wray: I think it is having an impact. Whether the impact will
be the positive impact that we want to have in the long run remains to be
seen. Certainly, we’ve seen China in some ways be less overt about some
of their tactics. Open question is to whether that’s progress. Are they
just hiding it better? Or are they actually pulling back? But I think they
are starting to get the message, without getting into some of reasons we
know that, that we’re not going to tolerate violations of our laws. And
that other countries that we work with have similar views.
Walter Russell Mead: We are coming to a close here. But I wonder if, you
spoke a lot in your speech about the need to keep open channels China, not
for attacks on the Chinese government, not to bleed over into attacks on
Chinese Americans or other things. Anything you would like to add to this?
And how can we, what can we do to keep students and other Chinese welcome
here, even as all of this is going on?
Christopher Wray: I mean, the way I look at it, they’re targeting our
system, our ideas, our innovation. In a way, have you heard the old saying
about imitation is the purest form of flattery? They envy the success of
our system. And they should envy the success of our system. We’re very
proud of the freedom and the free market environment that we have here. And
so I think it’s important to make clear that we’re not afraid of
competition. We’re not afraid of competition over business or ideas. But
it’s about the behavior. And the behavior is what has to change. It’s
about the rule of law at the end of the day.
Walter Russell Mead: All right. Well, thank you very much for joining us
today. It’s been a terrific session. I’ve certainly learned a lot. And
this emerging US really consensus over how to deal with some aspects of
Chinese behavior is I think one of the most striking things that we see,
even in a very divided and polarized moment in American life. So Mr.
Director, thank you so much for joining us. Hope to see you here again one
of these days.
Christopher Wray: Thanks, Walter. Thanks for having me.
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