FBI has 1,000 investigations into Chinese intellectual property theft, director Christopher Wray says, calling China the most severe counter-intelligence threat to US
- Arrests of people involved in Chinese operations to steal US corporate secrets have risen sharply in recent years
- Washington says problem is exacerbated by ‘Thousand Talents’ programme, which rewards Chinese professionals overseas who bring technology back to China
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has nearly 1,000 investigations open into economic espionage and attempted intellectual property theft, nearly all of them leading back to China, FBI director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday.
“There is no country that poses a more severe counter-intelligence threat to this country right now than China … and I don’t say it lightly,” Wray told the US Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We have as we speak probably about a thousand-plus investigations all across the country involving attempted theft of US intellectual property, whether it’s economic espionage or counter-proliferation, almost all leading back to China.
“It is a threat that is deep and diverse and wide and vexing … Make no mistake that this is a high priority for all of us.”
Arrests of people involved in Chinese operations to steal US corporate secrets, whether for corporate reasons or to obtain defence secrets, have risen sharply in recent years.
Justice Department national security officials have brought multiple cases involving Chinese economic espionage in the last year, including one announced this month against a man accused of stealing information from an American locomotive company.
Washington says the problem has been exacerbated by Beijing’s “Thousand Talents” programme, which offers financial awards to Chinese professionals overseas who bring advanced technology back to China.
The concern has given rise to a tightening of visas for Chinese researchers seeking to travel to the United States.
In June the US Department of Energy moved to block its scientists from taking part in the “Thousand Talents” programme to protect US competitive strengths and national security.
Wray said the Chinese government was using “not just government officials, but private sector entities, non-traditional collectors, etcetera, to steal their way up the economic ladder at our expense”.
“China is fighting a generational fight here,” he said.
“I want to be clear. This is not about the Chinese people as a whole and it is certainly not about Chinese-Americans in this country.”
Wray was appearing on Capitol Hill for an oversight hearing one day before former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies on his report about Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. Wray has declined to discuss that report but has spoken in some detail about the threat he says is posed by China.
Additional reporting by Associated Press