FBI says Chi­nese op­er­a­tives ac­tive at scores of US uni­ver­si­ties

Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES - • By TIM JOHN­SON

WASH­ING­TON (TNS) – Amid height­ened con­cern about Rus­sian elec­tion med­dling, the FBI on Tues­day warned US uni­ver­si­ties about Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives ac­tive on their cam­puses, adding that many aca­demics dis­play “a level of naivete” about the level of in­fil­tra­tion.

FBI di­rec­tor Christo­pher Wray told the Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee that China has ag­gres­sively placed op­er­a­tives at uni­ver­si­ties, “pro­fes­sors, sci­en­tists, stu­dents,” and the bu­reau must mon­i­tor them from its 56 field of­fices across the na­tion.

“It’s ev­ery field of­fice, not just ma­jor cities. It’s small ones as well,” Wray said.

The FBI is also “watch­ing war­ily” ac­tiv­i­ties at dozens of Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes, Chi­nese gov­ern­ment-spon­sored acad­e­mies that are of­ten em­bed­ded within uni­ver­si­ties and pub­lic schools to of­fer US stu­dents Man­darin lan­guage classes.

Some 350,000 Chi­nese stu­dents are en­rolled at US uni­ver­si­ties, about 35% of the more than 1 mil­lion for­eign­ers at­tend­ing uni­ver­sity in the coun­try, the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion es­ti­mates.

The Se­nate hear­ing to dis­cuss an an­nual as­sess­ment of world­wide threats fo­cused heav­ily on Rus­sian hack­ing and the nu­clear threat from North Korea, but sev­eral se­na­tors pushed the five in­tel­li­gence agency chiefs and the FBI di­rec­tor tes­ti­fy­ing at the hear­ing about China’s am­bi­tions.

Wray de­scribed China as us­ing a lot of “non­tra­di­tional col­lec­tors” of in­tel­li­gence and tech­nol­ogy, not only in the busi­ness com­mu­nity but also in academia.

“I think the level of naivety on the part of the aca­demic sec­tor about this cre­ates its own is­sues. 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 said.

A lit­tle more than a decade ago, China be­gan fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the United States, Bri­tain, France and Ger­many in cre­at­ing in­sti­tutes abroad to pro­mote their lan­guages.

The Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes now num­ber more than 100 at pub­lic and pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties, col­leges and even high schools. Sev­eral hun­dred more Con­fu­cius Class­rooms teach Man­darin at el­e­men­tary, mid­dle and high schools across the coun­try.

Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida wrote last week to five Florida in­sti­tu­tions – Mi­ami Dade Col­lege and the uni­ver­si­ties of North Florida, South Florida and West Florida as well as to Cypress Bay High School in Broward County – ask­ing that they shut down their Con­fu­cius pro­grams.

A smat­ter­ing of uni­ver­si­ties have elim­i­nated their Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute pro­grams, but the pro­grams con­tinue at uni­ver­si­ties in North and South Carolina, Cal­i­for­nia, Ken­tucky, Idaho, Texas, Mis­souri and Kansas, among other states.

The in­tel­li­gence agency heads at­tend­ing the hear­ing also out­lined how China’s in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing serves its global am­bi­tions.

“They have a long-term strate­gic ob­jec­tive to be­come a world power,” Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Dan Coats told the panel, adding that all US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies are an­a­lyz­ing China’s in­ten­tions in an in­te­grated man­ner.

“We have in­ten­sive stud­ies go­ing on through­out the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity on what China is do­ing,” Coats said. SEV­ERAL SE­NA­TORS voiced con­cern about China’s ef­forts to ob­tain US tech­nol­ogy through in­vest­ments and the rise of two of its own gi­ants, Huawei and ZTE, tele­com com­pa­nies with a grow­ing world­wide foot­print and close ties to China’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party.

“These com­pa­nies now rep­re­sent some of the lead­ing mar­ket play­ers glob­ally,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Vir­ginia Demo­crat who is rank­ing mem­ber of the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee.

“Most Amer­i­cans have not heard of all of these com­pa­nies. But as they en­ter West­ern eco­nomic mar­kets, we want to en­sure that they play by the rules. We need to make sure that this is not a new way for China to gain ac­cess to sen­si­tive tech­nol­ogy,” Warner said.

Sen. Tom Cot­ton, an Arkansas Repub­li­can, echoed Warner’s con­cerns about Huawei and ZTE, and asked the FBI di­rec­tor how con­cerned he would be if ei­ther of the Chi­nese com­pa­nies ac­quired a po­si­tion in­side the United States.

“We’re deeply con­cerned about the risks of al­low­ing any com­pany or en­tity that is be­holden to for­eign gov­ern­ments that don’t share our val­ues to gain po­si­tions of power in­side our telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works,” Wray said.

Cot­ton and fel­low Repub­li­can Ru­bio of Florida in­tro­duced a pro­posal in the Se­nate last week that would block the fed­eral gov­ern­ment from buy­ing or leas­ing equip­ment from Huawei Tech­nolo­gies Ltd. (pro­nounced WHAway) and ZTE Corp.

Hav­ing po­ten­tially un­friendly for­eign com­pa­nies in­side the US tele­com net­work, Wray said, “pro­vides the ca­pac­ity to ma­li­ciously mod­ify or steal in­for­ma­tion and it pro­vides the ca­pac­ity to con­duct un­de­tected es­pi­onage.”

Huawei, founded in 1987 by a for­mer Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army of­fi­cer, has gal­loped to a global lead in telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, al­most ab­sent in the US mar­ket but hugely pop­u­lar in China, Europe, Latin Amer­ica, Africa and the Mid­dle East. ZTE, once called the “poor man’s Huawei,” has be­come a gi­ant in wire­less and data telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment.

Cot­ton asked if any of the six in­tel­li­gence and law en­force­ment chiefs could rec­om­mend pur­chase of Huawei or ZTE prod­ucts to US cit­i­zens: “None of you raised your hand,” he said.

Wray, in re­sponse to ques­tions, said the FBI is con­cerned not only about the two com­pa­nies win­ning US con­tracts but also other Chi­nese com­pa­nies not so vis­i­bly con­nected with the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment buy­ing US high-tech star­tups or form­ing joint ven­tures here.

“Be­cause Amer­ica is the land of in­no­va­tion, there’s a lot of very ex­cit­ing stuff that’s hap­pen­ing in terms of smaller start-up com­pa­nies,” Wray said, and Chi­nese op­er­a­tives are on the hunt for use­ful tech­nol­ogy.

“I think the pri­vate sec­tor is not used to spot­ting (this), so a lot of it is try­ing to ed­u­cate them about what to be on the look­out for,” Wray said.

(Chris Walker/Reuters)

THEN-CHI­NESE Pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao (left) vis­its the The Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute, which was housed at Wal­ter Pay­ton Col­lege Prepara­tory High School in Chicago in 2011.

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