Michal Kranz, Business Insider, February 13, 2018
FBI director Christopher Wray reiterated a commonly held view on Tuesday that China is seeking to become a global superpower through unconventional means — but framed the threat China poses to the US as not just a governmental one, but as a societal one, too.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat as not just a whole of government threat, but a whole of society threat on their end,” Wray said, “and I think it’s going to take a whole-of-society response by us.”
In intelligence jargon, “collectors” are individuals who collect intelligence on behalf of agencies or governments. And he said they’ve infiltrated American universities.
“I think in this setting, I would just say that the use of non-traditional collectors — especially in the academic setting, whether it’s professors, scientists, students — we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country,” Wray said.
“They’re exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have which we all revere, but they’re taking advantage of it,” Wray added, noting that there is a “naiveté” amid academics about the risks posed by foreign nationals at universities.
As Wray mentioned, the openness of academia in general contributes to an open flow of ideas across the globe and the overall advancement of human knowledge and innovation.
To this end, US universities admit over a million international students, and Chinese students make up the largest share of these students. Nearly 329,000 Chinese nationals were enrolled in American colleges during the 2015-2016 school year, according to TIME.
While there is no evidence that a majority of Chinese students or academics pose any threat to US interests, there are a number of education efforts that the Chinese government uses as vehicles for soft power.
These institutes mirror many other foreign-language education entities that countries fund around the world, but with a couple caveats. Rather than existing as stand-alone bodies, they are inserted into US universities, and in addition to teaching Mandarin Chinese, they also reportedly engage in disseminating Chinese propaganda and restricting what professors and students should say.
As a result of the dangers to open expression posed by these institutes, the University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State have already closed the Confucius Institutes on their campuses. Other global universities have followed suit.
Confucius Institutes also have a strong presence on the African continent, where China is also in the process of growing its economic and political power. Africans in countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe are encouraged to view China as a positive economic force and a source of progress and opportunity as part of the “Look East” policy many African countries have implemented.
As a result of this push, the number of African students in China has skyrocketed over the last 10 years.
During Tuesday’s Senate hearing, the top US intel chiefs drew attention to Chinese cybersecurity strategies.
“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” Coats said, “by entities that are using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place” within the US.
Most Chinese cyber operations that the US has detected targeting private industry are against defense contractors, IT, and communications firms. The assessment said these companies are often ones that support the international operations of both the US government and the private sector.
With so many facets of American society under threat, Wray said it would take a lot more than just work from intelligence agencies to combat China.
“It’s not just the intelligence community,” he said, “but it’s raising awareness within our academic sector, within our private sector, as part of the defense.”