China is using a whole-of-society approach to steal its way to becoming a military power, and the U.S. government needs to better defend against such an espionage campaign, according to a retired CIA officer.
“U.S. security officials estimate that the Chinese steal between $300 billion and $600 billion a year in U.S. intellectual property, research and development, information, and technology,” David Sauer told The Epoch Times’ sister media outlet NTD on Oct 29.
The United States hasn’t been the only target of the campaign, Sauer said. China’s efforts have also targeted the European Union, South Korea, and Japan since the push began around 2000 to 2001, he said.
“They’re [China] stealing that information and then integrating [it] into their economy and their state-owned enterprises [and] into their military. Some of their military systems look like a carbon copy of U.S. military systems,” he said. “So it really saves them [China] a lot of time, sweat, and tears in trying to develop that technology.”
Sauer served as chief of station and deputy chief of station in multiple overseas command positions in East Asia and South Asia prior to his retirement.
The Chinese regime targets individuals—who can be students, academics, or business people—seeking their cooperation to obtain certain technologies that the regime in Beijing wants to get its hands on, Sauer said.
“Now, those people, I bet most of them don’t want to cooperate,” Sauer said. “They think it’s a little risky, and that they might get caught and ruin their life or their ability to function in the United States.
“But they really don’t have a choice. They’re dealing with an authoritarian regime. And they’ll risk their future by saying no. So they don’t.”
Christopher Wray, who has been the director of the FBI since August 2017, said in 2020 that the bureau was opening one new Chinese counterintelligence investigation about every 10 hours. Wray also said that the bureau had more than 2,000 counterintelligence investigations related to China at that time.
One recent FBI investigation involved Zhang Xiaoming, a former civilian professor at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, who pleaded guilty to making false statements to a federal agent regarding his ties with a Chinese municipal official.
According to the Department of Justice, Zhang developed a relationship with the official during one of his trips to China in 2012. Later, he became aware that the official was attempting to use him to gain access to sensitive information that was in his possession.
On Oct. 22, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) began an outreach campaign to warn U.S. organizations in five different sectors—artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, bioeconomy, quantum information science and technology, and semiconductors—about how they could be targets for foreign counterintelligence operations.
“To help achieve its strategic goals, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] employs a wide variety of legal, quasi-legal, and illegal methods to acquire technology and know-how from the United States and other nations,” an NCSC factsheet (pdf) reads.
These methods include academic collaboration, co-opting insiders, joint ventures, talent recruitment programs, and science and technology investments.
“The reality is that China’s using our technology and innovation to build its rise and to build a military that can defeat ours,” Sauer said.