FBI Director Christopher Wray cited China as a burgeoning menace when he testified on national security threats before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Though Wray said he was “reluctant to try to rank” nation-state security threats, he came close. “I think China, in many ways, represents the broadest, most complicated, most long-term counterintelligence threat we face,” he said.
Russia is an also-ran, in some respects, compared to China, Wray added. “Russia is, in many ways, fighting to stay relevant after the fall of the Soviet Union. They're fighting today's fight. China is fighting tomorrow's fight…and it affects every sector of our economy, every state in the country and just about every aspect of what we hold dear,” he said.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who also testified at the hearing, agreed with Wray. “China absolutely is exerting an unprecedented effort to influence American opinion,” she said.
“I would echo Director Wray's description of China. They’re bringing everything they have to bear. they're playing a long game trying to influence us in every way possible,” she added.
Chinese cyber threat can’t be overstated
“For all practical purposes, we are in an espionage war with China,” James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC told Fox News.
“They use cyber-espionage, intelligence officers, businessmen, and students and they target the émigré population. It’s an immense effort and the U.S. needs to push back harder,” he said.
Lewis believes, however, that China’s broader campaign to influence Americans falls short of Russia because the Chinese are not as attuned to American culture and society as the Russians.
“China has also undertaken a massive influence campaign but it’s less effective than Russian efforts. The Chinese are a little tone-deaf when it comes to American society and their tactics -- running full-page ads in local newspapers, for example -- aren’t very sophisticated,” Lewis added.
DHS gearing up for mid-term elections
Though Secretary Nielsen said that “we have not seen, to date, any Chinese attempts to comprise election infrastructure,” she said the Department of Homeland Security is trying to construct an electronic bulwark to defend against foreign threats.
“If we have any threat information from the intel community or from other states who have seen nefarious activity on their networks, we do proactively reach out. We also, through our network of Albert sensors, [do real-time monitoring of] network traffic and by the election about 90% of those voting will vote in areas that are covered by those sensors,” Nielsen said.
Albert sensors identify malware signatures and alert authorities if malicious activity is detected.
Neilsen added that the best way to avoid election infrastructure threats is to change passwords and patch computer systems.