Leaders from two of the world’s leading intelligence agencies gathered in London this week to discuss challenges facing the United States and its European allies, with both the FBI and MI5 warning China is – and will continue to be – one of the biggest threats to national security and economic prosperity.
During a meeting with international business executives, FBI director Christopher Wray said his agency “consistently see(s) that it’s the Chinese government that poses the biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security, and by ‘our,’ I mean both of our nations, along with our allies in Europe and elsewhere.”
Wray went on to warn those gathered that China has a long history of targeting private sector information through “cyber-enabled thievery” and, more recently, has launched large-scale campaigns to gain access to U.S. and European businesses by “making investments and creating partnerships that position their proxies to steal valuable technology.”
China has become adept at launching multi-faceted attacks against foreign institutions ranging from banking centers, research facilities, universities and even elections – and its actors have gone so far as to allegedly target congressional candidates viewed as anti-China, forward confidential vaccine research to their home country and spy on pro-Democracy advocated in the United States, according to the Justice Department
Wray reaffirmed longstanding concerns in denouncing economic espionage and hacking operations by China as well as the Chinese government’s efforts to stifle dissent abroad. But his speech was notable because it took place at MI5’s London headquarters and alongside the agency’s director general, Ken McCallum, in an intended show of Western solidarity.
“The most game-changing challenge we face comes from the Chinese Communist Party. It’s covertly applying pressure across the globe,” McCallum agreed in his own address, warning in part: “It means that if you are involved in cutting-edge tech, AI, advanced research or product development, the chances are your know-how is of material interest to the CCP.”
As in the United States, a number of businesses and individuals across numerous countries have been targeted by Chinese-backed campaigns in an effort to steal intellectual property or pass proprietary information on to the Chinese government.
To that end, MI5 has “shared intelligence with 37 countries to help defend against such espionage,” McCallum said Tuesday, adding that the United States has led the way on enhancing cybersecurity.
Both Wray and McCallum encouraged business executives to work with the FBI and MI5 when they believe they face a potential attack from China, saying: “We can arm you with intelligence that bears on just what it is you’re facing.”
“Our folks will race out to give you technical details that will help you lessen the effects of an attack,” Wray said, adding: “And we can also help you to ascertain whether the cyber problem you’ve encountered is actually part of a larger intelligence operation, whether the hackers you do see may be working with insiders, or in concert with other corporate threats, that you don’t see.”
A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, rejected the allegations from the Western leaders, saying in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that China “firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyber attacks” and calling the accusations groundless.
“We will never encourage, support or condone cyber attacks,” the statement said.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Thursday said the United States is “the biggest threat to world peace, stability and development,” continuing the country’s sharp rhetoric in response to U.S. accusations of Chinese spying and threats to the international order.
The heightened tone comes ahead of a meeting Saturday between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations’ ministers summit in Bali, Indonesia.
“The relevant U.S. politician has been playing up the so-called China threat to smear and attack China,” Zhao told reporters at a daily briefing when asked about FBI Director Christopher Wray’s comments reaffirming longstanding concerns in denouncing economic espionage and hacking operations by China as well as the Chinese government’s efforts to stifle dissent abroad.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.