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THE HILL: Senators highlight national security threats from China during rare public hearing

The below article was published by The Hill, photo credit: Getty Images

The Senate Intelligence Committee held a rare public hearing Wednesday afternoon to stress increasing threats posed by China to U.S. national security, with one top senator describing the situation as a “horror show.”

The threats, according to the officials, include Chinese counterintelligence activities such as cyberattacks against U.S. companies and critical organizations, malign influence and stealing billions of dollars in U.S. intellectual property.

“The Intelligence Committee … doesn’t normally hold open hearings, but Vice Chairman [Marco] Rubio [R-Fla.] and I believe this story needs to get out to the American public,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) testified at a committee hearing on Chinese threats Wednesday. 

Rubio also strongly stressed the need to confront China on its efforts to undermine the U.S., particularly on technological issues. 

“The members of this committee on a regular basis review some of the most sensitive intelligence, both intelligence and the products that come from them, that this government has available to it,” Rubio testified. “So I think it should send a powerful message when you see that on issue after issue relating to China … that it is members of this committee that you see in the lead.”

“Members of this committee, because of the role they play, have a very unique insight into this horror show that is playing out in the 21st century,” Rubio stressed. “The long arm of China is not some futuristic threat, it’s already here.”

The hearing was held as tensions between the U.S. and China have ramped up in recent years on a number of fronts. 

The Trump administration took steps to limit Chinese companies from doing business in the U.S., such as adding telecom groups Huawei and ZTE to the Commerce Department’s blacklist, and by renegotiating trade deals. The former administration last year also closed the Chinese Consulate in Houston, citing the need to protect U.S. intellectual property. 

China has become increasingly active in cyberspace, with the Biden administration and several allied countries formally calling out the Chinese government last month for exploiting vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s Exchange Server application earlier this year to infiltrate potentially thousands of companies. 

Other areas of contention between the U.S. and China have included concerns over the Chinese government’s approach to Hong Kong and its treatment of the Uyghur Muslim ethnic group. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee in April that the FBI opens a new investigation into China “every 10 hours,” and that the agency was investigating over 2,000 cases tied back to China. 

William Evanina, the former director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) and the founder and current CEO of the Evanina group, testified Wednesday that in 2020 alone, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) stole between $300 billion and $600 billion in U.S. intellectual property and trade secrets. 

“What that means is it’s between $4,000 and $6,000 for an American family of four after taxes,” Evanina told the committee. 

“Today’s topic … is an existential threat, and it is the most complex, pernicious, aggressive and strategic threat our nation has ever faced,” Evanina stressed. 

The committee leaders noted that the CCP has been able to influence U.S. companies and policies due to the desire by U.S. companies to have access to the Chinese market, and due to the CCP’s tendency to pressure Chinese students and researchers in the U.S. to steal data and research. 

“Today, China is already carrying out the biggest illegal wealth transfer from one nation to another in the history of mankind,” Rubio said. “Today, the Chinese Communist Party has more control over what Americans can say, what we can hear, what we can read, what we can watch, than any foreign government has ever had in our history.”

Warner noted that several witnesses the committee had asked to testify Wednesday had refused to appear due to concerns over repercussions for speaking out openly. 

Warner, Rubio and other committee members strongly stressed that their concerns over Chinese actions lay with the government, not the Chinese people or Chinese Americans, and urged the need to take action to confront the Chinese government for its actions.  

“It’s clear that I think our country is facing a new Sputnik moment, where we must take steps to remain competitive, especially in technology, and find better ways to strengthen our defenses against the CCP’s myriad intelligence, tech acquisition and foreign influence operations,” Warner stressed.

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