The United States and its allies pledged this week to do more to counter China’s theft of technology, warning at an unusual meeting of intelligence leaders that Beijing’s spying is increasingly shifting not to the imposing federal buildings of Washington but to the gleaming office complexes of Silicon Valley.
Intelligence chiefs sought Tuesday to involve private industry in combating what one official called an “unprecedented threat” as they discussed how to better protect new technologies and help countries Western countries to maintain their advantage over China.
The choice of location for the meeting – Stanford University, in Silicon Valley – was strategic. While Washington is often considered the main battleground for U.S. espionage, FBI officials estimate that more than half of Chinese espionage focused on stealing American technology takes place in the Bay Area.
It was the first time that the heads of the FBI and Britain’s MI5 and their counterparts from Australia, Canada and New Zealand had come together for a public debate on intelligence threats. It was actually a summit of spy hunters, the counterintelligence agencies whose role is to detect and stop China’s efforts to steal allies’ secrets.
“This unprecedented meeting is because we face another unprecedented threat,” said FBI Director Christopher A. Wray. “There is no greater threat to innovation than the Chinese government.”
The warnings come as the United States and China engage in an intense and escalating spy-versus-spy competition, and as U.S. officials say China’s espionage efforts have touched every facet of security nationality, diplomacy and advanced business technologies in the United States. Partner states and nations.
Intelligence chiefs said they were making the case to the private sector that the West’s security interests were aligned with their commercial interests. No one benefits from China’s theft of intellectual property, they argue.
Intelligence chiefs have said China is extremely interested in Western artificial intelligence, a technology that will allow countries to improve their intelligence collection and analysis and is expected to be a driver of economic gains for years.
Just before the intelligence chiefs’ meeting Tuesday, the Biden administration announced it was limiting the sale of advanced semiconductors to China, a restriction that could curb China’s development of artificial intelligence.
At a news conference Tuesday evening, Mr. Wray said China was stealing American technological know-how, then turning around and using the stolen knowledge to steal more.
“They are using AI to enhance their already massive hacking operations, using our own technology against us,” Mr Wray said.
Ken McCallum, director general of MI5, said the number of investigations into Chinese espionage had increased significantly in Britain since 2018 and that China had increased the number of approaches to potential informants there. The technologies China is trying to steal have the potential to transform both the economy and security, and China is undertaking an ambitious, large-scale effort, he said.
“If you’re tech-savvy, you might not be interested in geopolitics, but geopolitics is interested in you,” Mr. McCallum said.
Intelligence chiefs said China used hacking, pressure on Chinese students, Western corporate informants and joint ventures with Western companies to try to steal critical technologies.
David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said Western companies need to understand that China has “changed the rules of the game.” He said Chinese laws required its nationals anywhere in the world to provide information to Beijing’s intelligence services.
“This means that they have a way of forcing people here, in our countries, to tell them, to give them secrets,” Mr. Vigneault said.
U.S. national security officials have said preventing Beijing from imposing its rules on people abroad is a top priority. The United States is working to close illegal overseas police stations that the Justice Department says are used to surveil and intimidate dissidents.
Mike Burgess, director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, said China was exploiting the West’s openness and Western universities’ desire for collaboration.
“All nations spy, all nations seek secrets, and all nations seek strategic advantage, but the behavior we are talking about here goes far beyond traditional espionage,” he said.