DOJ’s Halt to Program Targeting CCP Espionage a Show of ‘Weakness’: Sen. Cotton

By Andrew Thornebrooke
Andrew Thornebrooke
Andrew Thornebrooke
Andrew Thornebrooke is a reporter for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.
February 24, 2022 Updated: February 25, 2022

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent decision to scrap the “China Initiative,” a Trump-era effort to thwart economic espionage by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is “another instance of weakness” by the Biden administration, a U.S. senator says.

“The CCP has stolen trillions of dollars of American intellectual property, destroyed millions of American jobs, and turned students and researchers studying in the United States into foreign spies,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in a Feb. 23 statement.

“Yet today, the Biden administration announced it’s canceling the initiative tasked with combatting the Chinese government’s unprecedented domestic sabotage and aggression because they claim it’s racist.”

He also said that the closure of the program presented “another instance of weakness from an administration more concerned with being politically correct than protecting Americans.”

The DOJ announced the end of the China Initiative on Feb. 23 following a review of its practices brought about by allegations of racial discrimination and mishandled cases.

The program was begun by the Trump administration in 2018 to counter national security threats stemming from the CCP’s use of espionage, fraud, and cybercrime against the United States. The program came under immense pressure from academics and Chinese Americans, however, who believed that it was discriminatory and negatively affected research.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, who led the review, said that it didn’t uncover any evidence to support claims of bias, but that the “perception” of bias was harmful enough to warrant the canceling of the program.

“Make no mistake, we will be relentless in defending our country from China,” Olsen said in a statement.

“But our review convinced us that a new approach is needed to tackle the most severe threats from a range of hostile nation-states.”

Olsen said the initiative would be replaced with a broader strategy focusing on a range of threats posed by nation-states.

Ian Prior, who was the DOJ deputy director of public affairs when the initiative was first announced, said the program had been important in unveiling the CCP’s strategy of stealing research and technology on a mass scale.

During a Feb. 24 interview with The Epoch Times at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, Prior said that cases such as that of a CCP attempt to steal genetically modified rice demonstrated how pervasive such espionage efforts are.

“I think that exactly goes to sort of their motivation, where [the CCP] are looking to effectively steal our intellectual property to increase their power, to increase their production, and to increase their technology,” Prior said.

He added that the CCP differs from other potential adversaries such as Russia, in that it didn’t pursue a strategy of sowing chaos and discord, but of continuously skimming and stealing.

“China’s model is to go out there and improve themselves by stealing from America,” Prior said. “Stealing trade secrets, stealing IP, [having] scientists going and working for companies and then bringing it back to China.

“That will eventually create a situation where the intellectual property and the economic value of the things that are happening in America will be transferred to China via espionage.”

Prior’s remarks echoed sentiments of experts such as Timothy Heath, a senior defense analyst for the Rand Corporation, who said the China Initiative was necessary to ensure national security against CCP espionage.

“The [CCP] have made no secret of their desire to dominate the most cutting-edge technologies and industries, and they have directed their bureaucracies and officials to acquire those technologies through whatever means necessary,” Heath said.

Despite remarks such as those of Cotton, Prior expressed some hope that the decision to close the China Initiative wasn’t a partisan one, and that the United States would work to lessen its interior struggles and focus more on the wider world.

“I would certainly hope that political ideology and political partisanship wouldn’t play a role in the Department of Justice’s national security operations, specifically when it comes to our adversaries,” Prior said.

“Nobody really thinks about these kinds of issues until we get a situation like we’re in now, where you have Russia and Ukraine,” he added. “It’s generally the way it has always worked in America, where they focus inward, as opposed to worrying about the global scene.”

David Zhang contributed to this report. 

Andrew Thornebrooke
Andrew Thornebrooke is a reporter for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master's in military history from Norwich University.