China’s intelligence services are mounting wide-ranging efforts to acquire U.S. technology and are among the most active of nearly 100 nations whose spying has undermined U.S. military advantages, according to a senior U.S. counterintelligence official.
China’s “national-level intelligence services employ a full range of collection methodologies, from the targeting of well-placed foreign government officials, senior scientists and businessmen to the exploitation of academic activities, student populations and private businesses,” Michelle Van Cleave, the national counterintelligence executive, said at a recent congressional hearing on foreign spying.
Miss Van Cleave said spies from nearly 100 nations are working to obtain sensitive U.S. technology, and “two countries that always rank near the top of the list are, of course, Russia and China.”
Although private-sector spies are a problem, “state-directed espionage remains the central threat to our most sensitive national security technology secrets,” she said.
Chinese intelligence agents are “very aggressive” in business and at obtaining information through elicitation. Additionally, “they’re adept at exploiting front companies, [and] they also have very capable intelligence services that target U.S. national security secrets,” she said.
Chinese intelligence efforts “take advantage of our open economic system to advance China’s technical modernization, reduce the U.S. military advantage and undermine our economic competitiveness,” Miss Van Cleave told the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims.
Chinese and other state-run and private spies use a variety of simple methods to acquire U.S. technology, including e-mail, facsimile and telephone solicitation or in-person requests, she said. Other methods include visits by spies to U.S. businesses, military bases, national laboratories and private defense contractors.
The public identification of China and Russia as spying threats by a senior official is a departure from past policy, when the identities of foreign spies were kept secret to avoid upsetting diplomatic ties.
Miss Van Cleave declined to identify other nations involved in technology spying but said they include some of America’s closest allies.
China’s government also has obtained sensitive technology through the access that Chinese students, scientists and other specialists have in the United States, she said.
“Beijing has established a number of outreach organizations in China, and it maintains close relations with a number of U.S.-based advocacy groups that facilitate its interaction with experts here and probably aid in efforts to acquire U.S. technology,” Miss Van Cleave said.
She said U.S. efforts to identify and stop the activities of foreign intelligence services have “to be more effective.”
Larry Wortzel, a former defense intelligence official, told the subcommittee that China is methodical in its intelligence-gathering efforts in the United States.
“The U.S. faces an organized program out of China that is designed to gather high technology information of military use,” Mr. Wortzel said.