China is conducting espionage not just against U.S. intelligence agencies and the military, but on society at large. That’s one of the key takeaways echoed by intelligence officials at this week’s Impact Seminar, hosted by the National Security Institute.
While Russia, Iran, Cuba and other state actors do present real threats to our democracy, none can compete with the level of supremacy that China now exercises over the American economy, military, and society.
As one intelligence official explained, America’s dominance on the world stage is not just military, but economic. When an American military or intelligence official speaks with foreign officials, their words are backed up by the strength of the U.S. economy. The Chinese realize that they don’t have to defeat us on the battlefield – economic superiority is the only victory the Chinese need.
In spite of this, most Americans are not on the lookout for Chinese spies. But regardless of who you are, if you’re American, the Chinese are here and they’re after you. Here are just three of the Americans who should be on the lookout for Chinese infiltration.
1. Students and Educators
Anyone who’s stepped on an American university campus knows that there are scores of Chinese students attending U.S. schools. Of course, many are just here to better themselves and take advantage of the academic opportunities. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. The Communist Party sponsors educational collaboration with over 100 U.S. universities through the Confucius Institutes. The details behind agreements with the Confucius Institutes are not very clear, but one thing is certain: Chinese money and influence has made its way into American higher education. They are of significant enough concern that Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio are pushing for legislation that blocks these institutes from funding U.S. schools.
But it works both ways. American students studying in China have also been targets of influence by the Chinese. An American student, Glenn Duffie Shriver, was convicted on charges of espionage several years ago. During his time abroad in China, he was paid by Chinese officials to “write essays” on Chinese-American relations. As the relationship progressed, he applied to the CIA at the behest of the Chinese, eventually being caught in the interview process
In Shriver’s own words, “The recruitment’s going on. Don’t fool yourself. The recruitment is active and the target is young people. Throw lots of money at them, see what happens.”
What do Volvo, Smithfield Ham, AMC Theaters, and Grindr all have in common? Their owners or majority stakeholders are Chinese. Telecom giant Huawei has been in headlines as its executives are arrested for sanctions violations. Lawmakers worked to stifle business deals that would put Chinese owners in charge of U.S. companies. And of course, the F-35 Lightning has had multiple Chinese hacks in its long development period. The Chinese are doing everything they can to insert themselves into the supply chain of American goods.
Another favorite of Chinese investors are Silicon Valley startups. Apps often contain vast amounts of user data. In the case of Grindr – a gay dating app – U.S. officials worried that this user data could be used to blackmail U.S. clearance holders.
Likewise, with more and more of our devices connected to the internet, a myriad of electronic spies are collecting our personal data from the comfort of our own homes. As more and more of the latest technology is not manufactured in the U.S., supply chain security is weakening. Our internet-connected devices most likely contain Chinese components. One intelligence official joked that his wife wants an Amazon Alexa. “I won’t allow Alexa in my house,” he said. After all, users can’t be sure who the AI device is spilling her secrets to.
3. LinkedIn Users
Many speakers at the Impact Seminar also pointed to LinkedIn as a favorite tool of the Chinese espionage apparatus. For years, the Chinese have used it to target not only members of the American intelligence community, but that of allied nations, such as Germany and France.
As Lindy Kyzer recently wrote for ClearanceJobs, LinkedIn is increasingly being used as China’s intelligence directory. “Officials from the Defense Security Service have urged clearance holders to be cautious on social networking sites for years. In 2017, a DSS official noted “Right now, LinkedIn is the number one way we see industry being targeted.” In August, Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Service William Evanina said LinkedIn was “a victim” of China’s aggressive attempts to target the U.S. national security community.”
Whether by impersonating a recruiter, or through your contact with a legitimate intelligence professional who’s gone rogue, you can bet the Chinese are paying attention to what you do on LinkedIn.
As many officials emphasized, they’re doing all they can against the China threat, but the FBI or CIA alone cannot stop this force. Our whole country needs to develop a posture of caution. Let’s re-adopt the paranoia of the Cold War – because you’re not paranoid if they really are after you. And rest assured, the Chinese are.