Former President Donald Trump‘s top national security officials are warning about China’s illegal pursuit of data through cyber theft and other means, with one warning that the sensitive information is enough for them to compile a “dossier” on every American adult.
During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday, Matthew Pottinger, a former Trump deputy national security adviser, warned that China was planning to use the data it had stolen from the US and around the world to influence and coerce everyone from political leaders to ordinary citizens.
“Assembling dossiers on people has always been a feature of Leninist regimes, but Beijing’s penetration of digital networks worldwide, including using 5G networks … has really taken this to a new level,” Pottinger said. “So, the Party now compiles dossiers on millions of foreign citizens around the world, using the material that it gathers to influence, target, intimidate, reward, blackmail, flatter, humiliate, and ultimately divide and conquer.”
Pottinger added: “Beijing’s stolen sensitive data is sufficient to build a dossier on every single American adult and on many of our children too, who are fair game under Beijing’s rules of political warfare.”
The United States and its allies blamed China’s Ministry of State Security for a massive hack against Microsoft last month, with the Justice Department also charging members of China’s intelligence agency in a separate global espionage campaign.
The United States did not impose sanctions against China in response to the SolarWinds hack earlier this year, as it did against Russian intelligence hackers. The White House, on the other hand, said it spoke with senior Chinese officials about its concerns about “the PRC’s broader malicious cyber activity.”
William Evanina, Trump’s director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, also provided testimony Wednesday, contending that “the existential threat our nation faces from the Communist Party of China is the most complex, pernicious, strategic, and aggressive our nation has ever faced.”
Evanina warned China’s efforts “drive a comprehensive and whole of country approach to their efforts to invest, leverage, infiltrate, influence, and steal from every corner of U.S. success” and that “it is estimated that 80% of American adults have had all of their personal data stolen by the CCP, and the other 20% most of their personal data.”
He pointed to the “willingness of China and its intelligence services to illegally and legally obtain data to drive artificial intelligence, research, and development programs and to facilitate their military and economic goals.” He lamented that “over the past decade, we have seen CCP cyber and insider threat breaches and criminality to such a level I fear we are becoming numb when it is identified.”
In early 2020, then-Attorney General William Barr announced the indictment of four Chinese military personnel for their roles in the 2017 Equifax hack, which exposed sensitive personal information on approximately 145 million Americans. Barr cited the previous Chinese hacking of the Office of Personnel Management in 2014, which resulted in the theft of data from at least 21 million people, as well as the more recent massive breaches at Marriott, which stole data from an estimated 500 million guests worldwide, and Anthem Health, which stole data from 80 million people.
Last August, John Demers, the former assistant attorney general of the National Security Division and head of the Department of Justice’s China Initiative, discussed Trump’s 2020 executive orders related to Chinese-owned apps, laying out the rationale for the Trump administration’s now-failed attempts to ban the popular video-sharing social media app TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, and messaging app WeChat, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance.
Apps, according to Demers, “really raise the problem that TikTok best illustrates,” namely “how much data they collect on our lives.” China’s history of “targeted acquisitions” of companies that aren’t “traditional” was cited by the DOJ official.
Pottinger also issued a warning on Wednesday about China’s broader “United Front” efforts to sway the United States. The United Front is a massive Chinese government-wide global propaganda campaign aimed at influencing decision-makers and individuals around the world. It includes everything from China’s Thousand Talents programs for recruiting scientists and stealing technology to its on-campus Confucius Institutes.
“We fail to adequately appreciate, I think, one of the most threatening elements of Chinese strategy, and that’s the way that it seeks to influence and coerce Americans — including political, business, and scientific leaders — in the service of Beijing’s ambitions,” Pottinger said. “One of the most critical elements of Beijing’s political warfare is its so-called United Front work. So, United Front Work is an immense range of activities with no analog in China’s democracies. … The CCP’s 95 million members are all required to participate in the system, which has many different branches. The United Front Work Department alone, which is just one branch, has three times as many cadres as the U.S. State Department has foreign service officers — except instead of practicing diplomacy, the United Front gathers intelligence about works to influence private citizens as well as government officials overseas, with a focus on foreign elites and the businesses they run.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called United Front work a “magic weapon” for bringing about “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
(Source: Washington Examiner)