Chinese spies are spreading throughout the United States as part of “a whole-of-society threat,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Tuesday.
Wray told Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that Chinese “collectors” of intelligence are targeting academic institutions throughout the country. Rubio emphasized fields such as science and mathematics as particular targets. Wray concurred, as administration officials agreed that China is pursuing a long-term strategy to eclipse the United States as a world power.
“The use of nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting — whether its professors, scientists, students — we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country,” Wray said during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. “It’s not just in major cities; it’s in small ones, as well; it’s across basically every discipline.”
The problem is exacerbated by the “naivete” of U.S. academics who don’t recognize the intelligence collectors among them.
“They’re exploiting the very open research-and-development environment that we have, which we all revere, but they’re taking advantage of it,” he said. “So, one of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole-of-government threat but a whole-of-society threat on their end and I think it’s going to take a whole of-society response by us.”
Wray also confirmed that the FBI is monitoring Confucius Institutes, a Chinese education program that involves partnerships with American colleges; the Florida senator urged several schools in his state to end their programs in a letter last week.
“We have seen some decrease recently in their own enthusiasm and commitment to that particular program but it is something that we're watching warily and in certain instances have developed appropriate investigative steps,” Wray said.
The use of academic spies and education programs that U.S. officials regard as part of a plan to influence American public opinion are outgrowths of a long-term plan to facilitate Chinese power, they agreed. A major CIA research project, published for public consumption in 2015, concluded that Chinese foreign policy is a running a “hundred-year marathon” to displace the United States as a superpower by mid-century.
“I’m not sure in the 240 something odd-year history of this nation we have ever faced a competitor and potential adversary of this scale, scope, and capacity,” Rubio said.
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, agreed. “There is no question that what you have just articulated is what’s happening with China,” he said. “I think it’s clear that they have a long-term strategic objective to become a world power and they are executing, throughout the whole of government, ways in which they can accomplish that.”