FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday said that Chinese technology theft is rampant, and that "no country poses a greater threat than Communist China" right now, according to Reuters.
"As I stand here talking with you today, the FBI has about 1,000 investigations involving China’s attempted theft of U.S.-based technology in all 56 of our field offices and spanning just about every industry sector," Wray told conference attendees at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Wray noted China's aggressive push to exploit US academic openness to use "campus proxies" for the theft of technology, as well as establishing "institutes on our campuses."
Attorney General William Barr also spoke at the conference, saying that China is now America's "top geopolitical adversary," pointing to Beijing's emerging dominance in next-generation 5g telecommunications technology.
"China has stolen a march and is now leading in 5G," said Barr, adding "They have already captured 40 percent of the market and are now aggressively pursuing the balance."
The FBI data shows an aggressively stepped-up campaign by U.S. authorities to root out Chinese espionage operations pursuing American secrets. This has snared a growing group of Chinese government officials, business people, and academics.
In 2019 alone, public records show U.S. authorities arrested and expelled two Chinese diplomats who allegedly drove onto a military base in Virginia. They also caught and jailed former CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency officials on espionage charges linked to China.
China’s efforts to steal unclassified American technology, ranging from military secrets to medical research, have long been thought to be extensive and aggressive. But U.S. officials launched a broad effort to stop alleged Chinese espionage in the United States only in 2018. -Reuters
China rejects the accusations, with their Washington embassy calling them "entirely baseless."
"The people-to-people exchange between China and the US is conducive to stronger understanding between the two peoples and serves the fundamental interests of our two countries," it told Reuters in an emailed statement.
That said, CSIS has noted 137 publicly-reported cases of Chinese-linked espionage against the USA since 2000, of which 73% took place in the last decade. The data shows that military and commercial technologies are the most common targets of theft.
Another heavily targeted industry is medical research.
In the area of medical research, of 180 investigations of misuse of National Institutes of Health funds, diversion of research intellectual property and inappropriate sharing of confidential information, more than 90% of the cases have links to China, according to an NIH spokeswoman. -Reuters
According to CSIS expert James Lewis, "China depends on Western technology and as licit avenues are closed, they turn to espionage to get access."
Reuters notes that in January alone, "federal prosecutors in Boston announced three criminal cases involving industrial spying or stealing, including charges against a Harvard department chair."
Prosecutors said Harvard’s Charles Lieber lied to the Pentagon and the NIH about his involvement in the Thousand Talents Plan: a Chinese government program that offers mainly Chinese scientists working overseas lavish financial incentives to bring their expertise and knowledge back to China. They said he also lied about his affiliation with China’s Wuhan University of Technology.
During at least part of the time he had ties to the Chinese university, Lieber was also a “principal investigator” working on at least six research projects funded by U.S. Defense Department agencies, court documents show.
We note that nothing was said about launch codes.