The Chinese regime is a bigger threat to the U.S. election process than Russia, Attorney General William Barr said April 8.
The statement comes as the regime is under intense scrutiny from the United States for its economic espionage efforts, intellectual property theft, and more recently, its lack of transparency, leading to the worldwide spread of the CCP virus.
Barr made the comments during an interview with Fox News, while discussing a range of topics, such as the effect of the pandemic on American society and civil liberties, and the threat the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) poses to U.S. politics, academia, and businesses.
When asked whether he thought China or Russia was a greater threat to U.S. election security, Barr answered that it was the former.
“And not just to the election process, but I think across the board. There’s simply no comparison. China is a very serious threat to the United States geopolitically, economically, militarily, and a threat to the integrity of our institutions, given their ability to influence things,” Barr said during the interview.
In recent years, the Justice Department (DOJ) and the FBI have ramped up efforts to crack down on Chinese infiltration through attempts by state-backed companies to steal trade secrets from U.S. companies. The FBI said it was conducting roughly 1,000 investigations into Chinese intellectual property theft as of February.
The DOJ also is heavily engaged in confronting Beijing’s campaign to aggressively steal information. The department launched the “China Initiative” in 2018 to combat such threats, which has resulted in at least 39 China-related espionage prosecutions, including cases involving Chinese intelligence officers, former U.S. intelligence officials, Chinese nationals, and naturalized U.S. citizens from China.
Around 80 percent of all economic espionage prosecutions allege activity that would benefit the Chinese regime, the DOJ stated in a report (pdf). In a recent example, a Chinese national who worked as an associate scientist at a U.S. petroleum company was sentenced to two years in prison for stealing proprietary information worth more than $1 billion from his employer.
In another notable example, a Harvard professor was arrested in January for allegedly lying about his involvement in China’s Thousand Talents Program, while hiding tens of thousands of dollars of funding he received from the program.
The Thousand Talents Program is the regime’s recruitment initiative, designed to “attract, recruit, and cultivate high-level scientific talent,” to further the regime’s ambitions in science, economy, and national security. The program also tries to bring in Chinese overseas talent and foreign experts to share their knowledge and reward individuals for stealing proprietary information, the DOJ said.
“The Chinese are engaged in a full-court blitzkrieg of stealing American technology, influence our political system, trying to steal secrets at our research universities, and so forth,” Barr said.
He noted that the United States is trying to “tighten up” programs that allow Chinese researchers to work in the country, while adding that a number of universities are working with the DOJ to understand the nature of the threat.
“But it’s not just universities; universities are just part of the problem,” he said. “But a lot of American businesses just for short-term profit [are doing work in China or with the Chinese]. … They know over the long run, it’s not going to be a long-term benefit to their business, but just for short-term gain, they are perhaps not doing what is necessary in the long-term interest of the United States.”
The attorney general’s comments come as the United States battles the burgeoning CCP virus pandemic, which has already caused widespread human and economic devastation. Several U.S. lawmakers have criticized the CCP for its mismanagement and suppression of information in the early stages that resulted in the spread of the virus, which causes the potentially deadly disease called COVID-19.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) penned an op-ed, published on Fox News, that argues the CCP is responsible for misrepresenting information to the World Health Organization in the initial stages of the outbreak.
Other lawmakers have also raised similar concerns and have called for international investigations against the regime. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who previously called on Beijing to pay reparations to the United States for mishandling the pandemic, has urged the federal government to bring a case against China for COVID-19 damages to the United Nations International Court of Justice.
Cathy He contributed to this report.