The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is calling on the Intelligence Community to declassify more information as a way to combat the growing threat the Chinese government poses to American businesses.
In remarks delivered at the Council on Foreign Relations June 17, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va, said he has been convinced in recent years of the Chinese threat but lacks the tools needed to share his concerns with the American business community at large.
“We need to sound the alarm. Over the last year, because I’ve had so many of these briefs and the evidence I think has become so overwhelming, I’ve gone to the Intelligence Community and said, simply terrifying or scaring members of the Intelligence Committee to give us this information in classified briefings (isn’t enough),” said Warner. “We are not doing our job if we don’t find ways to declassify more of this information and get it out to American business, American policymakers and American academia.”
Warner said that he’s taken to traveling the country to give “road shows” to groups of American business leaders to convey the threat that China currently poses to them and how they can deter them. Warner is accompanied by either the director or deputy director of National Intelligence, senior officials from the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and other members of the Intelligence Community, as well as a Republican member from the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Warner said that he’s given 11 such presentations to business leaders, venture capitalists and academics “to really kind of share in a one day classified meeting some of the challenges that China presents and some of the tactics they use to try to advance their government’s interests.”
Despite those efforts, Warner said there needs to be a better method to convey the threats American businesses are facing from China.
“The Chinese government uses all of the traditional tools of the state to exert influence,” said Warner, including an expanded military state and an aggressive deployment of espionage. “What we’ve also seen come out of China is more creative methods that take advantage of the more authoritarian model to force Chinese companies, researchers and others to act on behalf of the Communist Party,” said Warner.
According to Warner, China is even going so far as to use the families of Chinese nationals working in research institutes and universities as blackmail to force them to steal intellectual property. Chinese companies that supply technology in support of American infrastructure, such as Huawei, could be forced by the Chinese government by law to include malware in future upgrades to their systems, he warned.
“They’re coupling that with an ability to actually manipulate and use Western companies in ways that are frankly very confounding. We’ve seen Western companies, in an effort to try to get access to the Chines market, make sacrifices on intellectual property, make sacrifices on business practices, that they would make in no other market in the world," he continued.
Further, Warner said he was concerned by American companies that are willing to work with China on developing its surveillance technology.
“It bothers me a great deal when we sometimes see American technology companies who have no problem working with China on development of their social credit system or surveillance state tactics, and some of those same companies then having challenges working with the American defense establishment. That is something I think we need to reexamine,” said Warner.
The remark appeared to be a not too subtle dig at Google, which opened up an AI center in China in 2018. Google has come under criticism over the last year for both Project Maven, an AI partnership with the U.S. military, and Project Dragonfly, a search engine for China that would work in cooperation with Chinese censors. Last summer the company announced it would not renew its contract to work on Project Maven, and Project Dragonfly was reported to have shut down following internal protests.
Several lawmakers and defense officials have since criticized Google for opening up the center while declining to work with the Pentagon.
Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.