FBI Director Christopher Wray described China the most significant “intelligence collection” theat. His comments were made at a discussion at the Washington DC offices of the Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank.
“No country poses a broader more severe intelligence collection threat than China,” Mr Wray said, adding that he was seeing increased instances of “blended threats”, a combination of cybercrimes and espionage. “Economic espionage dominates our counter-intelligence program today.”
“China has pioneered a societal approach to stealing innovation in any way it can from a wide array of businesses, universities and organizations. They’re doing it through Chinese intelligence services, their state-owned enterprises, through ostensibly “private” companies, through graduate students, through researchers, through a variety of actors all working on behalf of China,” Mr. Wray said.
On Thursday the U.S Trade Representative said it was keeping China on a ‘priority watch list’ of countries that are of significant concern to the U.S. in terms of their inadequate protection of IP. China’s IP laws are a contentious topic and have featured in the trade talks between the two countries. The U.S. is also aggressively working with allies in trying to keep China out of dominating the building of global 5G network infrastructure such as by taking action against Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Russian Threat is “Very Significant”
Mr Wray described Russia as a “very significant” threat in response to a question on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s characterization of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as “sweeping and systematic”.
“I think everybody has their own adjectives…I do think Russia poses a very significant counterintelligence threat, certainly in the cyber-arena, certainly [in] what we call the ‘malign foreign influence territory’, certainly in their presence of intelligence officers in this country,” he said.
Mr Wray is a Trump appointee and his comments are in contrast with those from several senior administration officials, who have tended to play down the role of Russian influence on the campaign.
Mr Wray said malign foreign influence has continued “pretty much unabated” through the use of fake news, propaganda, false personas to sow divisiveness and undermine Americans’ faith in democracy. This was in response to a question on the scale and nature of the foreign influence threat between the 2016 presidential election and 2018 midterm elections.
However, Mr Wray said there was no material impact or interference with election or campaign infrastructure in 2018. U.S. intelligence was looking at 2018 as a “dress rehearsal” for 2020 [ U.S. presidential elections] he said.
Fewer dots to connect in Sri Lanka type situation
On the Sri Lanka bombings of Easter Sunday, Mr Wray said that the FBI had sent personnel over to assist in the investigation to work with its partners in Sri Lanka.
“You always hear this phrase about ‘connecting the dots’ in the terrorist arena, but a lot of the terrorist plots of today are more compact, involving fewer people, less complicated attacks, shorter period of time, which means fewer dots to connect in the first place,” he said, adding that information encryption has made the dots even fewer and the time in which law enforcement can act has been compressed.