China is stepping up its overt and covert efforts to gather intelligence and technology in the United States, and the activities have boosted Beijing’s plans to rapidly produce advanced-weapons systems.
“I think you see it where something that would normally take 10 years to develop takes them two or three,” said David Szady, chief of FBI counterintelligence operations.
He said the Chinese are prolific collectors of secrets and military-related information.
“What we’re finding is that [the spying is] much more focused in certain areas than we ever thought, such as command and control and things of that sort,” Mr. Szady said.
“In the military area, the rapid development of their ‘blue-water’ navy—like the Aegis weapons systems—in no small part is probably due to some of the research and development they were able to get from the United States,” he said.
The danger of Chinese technology acquisition is that if the United States were called on to fight a war with China over the Republic of China (Taiwan), U.S. forces could find themselves battling a U.S.-equipped enemy.
“I would hate for my grandson to be killed with U.S. technology” in a war over Taiwan, senior FBI counterintelligence official Tim Bereznay told a conference earlier this year.
The Chinese intelligence services use a variety of methods to spy, including traditional intelligence operations targeting U.S. government agencies and defense contractors.
Additionally, the Chinese use hundreds of thousands of Chinese visitors, students and other nonprofessional spies to gather valuable data, most of it considered “open source,” or unclassified information.
To counter such incidents, the FBI has been beefing up its counterintelligence operations in the past three years and has special sections in all 56 field offices across the country for counterspying.
But the problem of Chinese spying is daunting.
“It’s pervasive,” Mr. Szady said. “It’s a massive presence, 150,000 students, 300,000 delegations in the New York area. That’s not counting the rest of the United States, probably 700,000 visitors a year. They’re very good at exchanges and business deals, and they’re persistent.”
In some cases, so-called political correctness can interfere with FBI counterspying. For example, Chinese-American scientists at U.S. weapons laboratories have accused the FBI of racial profiling.
But Mr. Szady said that is not the case.
China uses ethnic Chinese-Americans as a base from which to recruit agents, he said.
“They don’t consider anyone to be American-Chinese,” Mr. Szady said. “They’re all considered overseas Chinese.”