FBI director warns China’s espionage as biggest threat to US and its allies

FBI Director Christopher Wray often uses US speeches and congressional statements to warn about Chinese espionage, but last week he took his message to the UK in a rare move to raise global awareness of the threat.

In an interview in London, Wray called for a continued focus on China, despite America’s and its allies’ keen interest in responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We want to make sure of that [China] Threat that is in many ways the largest, broadest, and most pervasive long-term threat we and our allies face remains at the forefront,” Wray told the Financial Times.

He spoke to Ken McCallum, the head of British intelligence, ahead of a joint event MI5in which the pair warned business leaders of the rising threat Chinese espionage.

“I don’t think the FBI Director and the MI5 Director General have ever done anything like that on any subject,” Wray said.

“It’s a measure of how significant the threat is, but also how united we are in prioritizing it and how we’re addressing it.”

Since becoming FBI director in 2017, Wray has been open about domestic threats China These range from cyberespionage to attempts to influence US politics. He said countries, business and academia had better prepared for the threat, but stressed that Chinese intelligence was stepping up its spying efforts.

“They have stepped up our demands,” Wray said, adding that the FBI launches an investigation related to China every 12 hours on average.

“As we push back together with partners, the Chinese government is bound to get smarter when it comes to covering up and hiding some of their activities.”

Wray said China makes it harder for companies to carefully screen potential Chinese partners. He said the Chinese Communist Party had long used “sophisticated shell games” to hide its influence, but said they were becoming “more complicated” and putting heavier burdens on Western companies.

Wray said the FBI and MI5 want to work more closely with business to give them the tools to prevent espionage. “The level of threat we’re talking about is something we don’t think we can figure out or break free of with certainty,” he added.

Wray said many universities are working closely with the FBI on the matter, but acknowledged that helping smaller companies that may not realize they are targets is a challenge.

“Part of the problem is that we need to reach more and more smaller companies, venture capital firms and people like that.

“Some of the smaller companies are of great interest [to China] because there’s a lot of innovation there too, but some of them don’t have that same resilience built into their systems.”

MI5’s McCallum also stressed concerns about China.

“Russia is clearly a big, important player in the military sphere, in the energy sphere, but not in many of the other technological areas or the academic work that we have described,” he said.

“China is the most disruptive of all threats in the sense that it permeates so many aspects of our national life.”

Wray said China is also coming under more scrutiny after President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin unveiled a “no limits” partnership ahead of the invasion of Ukraine.

“The Chinese are ironically watching the world become more aware of what they are up to,” he added.

In a separate joint event on the final day of his visit, Wray said he hoped security services in other countries would replicate the kind of partnerships the FBI and MI5 had built with the private sector.

“If we want to protect ourselves from the threats, whether it’s the threat of industrial espionage in China or the cyber threats from any country, it requires a partnership with the private sector.”

McCallum, sitting next to Wray, said the two agencies were stepping up their collaboration in what was already a very close partnership, citing an African proverb he learned from his daughter: “If you want to go fast, go alone.” If you want to go far, go together.”

consequences Demetri Sevastopulo on twitter

https://www.ft.com/content/283a306e-94d2-421b-9241-644296d9bf7d FBI director warns China’s espionage as biggest threat to US and its allies

Adam Bradshaw

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