August 6, 2021
-The Washington Examiner
Top national security officials for former President Donald Trump are sounding the alarm about China’s illicit pursuit of data through cyber theft and other means, with one warning the sensitive information is enough for them to put together a “dossier” on every American adult.
Matthew Pottinger, a former Trump deputy national security adviser, warned during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday that China was looking to use the data it had stolen from the United States and worldwide to influence and coerce everyone from political leaders to private citizens.
“Assembling dossiers on people has always been a feature of Leninist regimes, but Beijing’s penetration of digital networks worldwide, including using 5G networks … has really taken this to a new level,” Pottinger said. “So the Party now compiles dossiers on millions of foreign citizens around the world, using the material that it gathers to influence, target, intimidate, reward, blackmail, flatter, humiliate, and ultimately divide and conquer.”
Pottinger added: “Beijing’s stolen sensitive data is sufficient to build a dossier on every single American adult and on many of our children too, who are fair game under Beijing’s rules of political warfare.”
Last month, the U.S. and its allies blamed China’s Ministry of State Security for the massive hack against Microsoft, with the Justice Department also charging members of the Chinese intelligence agency over a separate global espionage campaign.
The U.S. did not implement sanctions against China like it did against Russian intelligence hackers for the SolarWinds hack earlier this year. However, the White House said it raised its concerns about “the PRC’s broader malicious cyber activity” with senior Chinese officials.
William Evanina, Trump’s director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, also provided testimony Wednesday, contending that “the existential threat our nation faces from the Communist Party of China is the most complex, pernicious, strategic, and aggressive our nation has ever faced.”
Evanina warned China’s efforts “drive a comprehensive and whole of country approach to their efforts to invest, leverage, infiltrate, influence, and steal from every corner of U.S. success” and that “it is estimated that 80% of American adults have had all of their personal data stolen by the CCP, and the other 20% most of their personal data.”
He pointed to the “willingness of China and its intelligence services to illegally and legally obtain data to drive artificial intelligence, research, and development programs and to facilitate their military and economic goals.” He lamented that “over the past decade we have seen CCP cyber and insider threat breaches and criminality to such a level I fear we are becoming numb when it is identified.”
In early 2020, then-Attorney General William Barr announced the indictment of four members of the Chinese military for their role in the 2017 Equifax hacking that breached sensitive personal data on approximately 145 million people in the U.S. Barr pointed to the previous 2014 Chinese hacking of the Office of Personnel Management, which resulted in the theft of data from at least 21 million people, and the more recent massive breaches against Marriott, stealing data from an estimated 500 million guests worldwide, and Anthem Health, in which Chinese hackers purloined data from 80 million people.
Last August, John Demers, the former assistant attorney general of the National Security Division and head of DOJ’s China Initiative, discussed Trump’s 2020 executive orders related to the Chinese-owned apps, laying out the reasoning for the Trump administration’s now-failed efforts to ban the popular video-sharing social media app TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, and messaging app WeChat, owned by Shenzhen-based Chinese global conglomerate Tencent.
Demers said apps “really raise the problem that TikTok illustrates best,” which is “how much data they collect on our lives.” The DOJ official pointed to China’s history of “targeted acquisitions” of companies that might not be “traditionally thought of” as national security risks, but it helps China obtain data.
Pottinger also warned Wednesday about China’s broader so-called United Front efforts to influence the U.S. The United Front is a massive Chinese governmentwide global effort to spread propaganda and influence decision-makers and individuals worldwide, encompassing everything from China’s Thousand Talents programs recruiting scientists and stealing technology to its on-campus Confucius Institutes.
“We fail to adequately appreciate, I think, one of the most threatening elements of Chinese strategy, and that’s the way that it seeks to influence and coerce Americans — including political, business, and scientific leaders — in the service of Beijing’s ambitions,” Pottinger said. “One of the most critical elements of Beijing’s political warfare is its so-called United Front work. So, United Front Work is an immense range of activities with no analog in China’s democracies … The CCP’s 95 million members are all required to participate in the system, which has many different branches. The United Front Work Department alone, which is just one branch, has three times as many cadres as the U.S. State Department has foreign service officers — except instead of practicing diplomacy, the United Front gathers intelligence about works to influence private citizens as well as government officials overseas, with a focus on foreign elites and the businesses they run.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called United Front work a “magic weapon” for bringing about “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”