In his testimony, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that no other country represented more of a threat to the US’ economic security and democratic ideals than China, adding that its ability to influence American institutions was “deep and wide and persistent.”
Wray’s comments come amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing across a range of fronts, including alleged human rights abuses in China’s western region of Xinjiang and issues related to Taiwan and Hong Kong.
US Director for National Intelligence Avril Haines and CIA Director William Burns spoke alongside Wray at the hearing Wednesday, the first group public testimony of the nation’s intelligence leaders before the US Congress since 2019.
In particular, Wray identified an indictment relating to a Chinese government operation called “Foxhunt,” which he alleged involved Beijing conducting “uncoordinated illegal law enforcement activity” on US soil as a means to “threaten, intimidate harass (and) blackmail” members of the ethnically Chinese “diaspora.”
“It’s an indication and an illustration of just how challenging and diverse this particular threat is,” Wray said.
The Chinese government views “Operation Foxhunt” as an international anti-corruption campaign that targets fugitives from China, often former officials or rich individuals suspected of economic crimes.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has previously defended the actions of its agents overseas, noting that “Chinese law enforcement authorities strictly observe international law,” and has accused US criticism of being “driven by ulterior motives.”
The hearing comes less than a week after the US intelligence community released its Annual Threat Assessment, in which it warned that the Chinese and Russian governments were aiming to use the Covid-19 pandemic to grow their global influence.
The report said that Beijing had been “intensifying efforts to shape the political environment” in the US, to try to assert political influence and muffle criticism of its own policies, including the crackdowns on civil liberties in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
On Wednesday, Haines told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Chinese government had “substantial” cyber capabilities that “if deployed, at a minimum can cause localized, temporary disruptions to critical infrastructure inside the United States.”
In July 2020, the US government charged two alleged Chinese hackers who authorities said had taken part in a “sweeping global computer intrusion campaign,” including attempting to access US coronavirus research and targeting human rights activists.
“At no point has it been more important to invest in our norms and institutions, our workforce and the integration of our work,” Haines said Wednesday.
The FBI has more than 2,000 investigations that tie back to the Chinese government and is opening a new one “every 10 hours,” the bureau’s director told the US Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.