FBI director asks US businesses to work more closely with the agency to defeat Chinese espionage efforts

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The head of the FBI urged US companies on Thursday to develop closer ties with it to counter a “multi-avenue” effort by Beijing to amass enough intellectual property to “become the world’s only superpower”.

In a virtual address to the Economic Club of New York, Christopher Wray, the director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, encouraged its members to establish partnerships with the agency’s local offices – before breaches occur like the Microsoft Exchange email server hack discovered earlier this year.

“Too often when we see a cyberthreat and start digging, we find that the same adversary is also working with an unwitting company insider to target … sensitive and proprietary information,” Wray said.

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He continued: “Or they may be going after it through a foreign-controlled company trying to use a corporate transaction like a joint venture or something as a way to get access to the information.”

“Most of the time that threat is coming from the Chinese government or companies under the Chinese government‘s sway, and to say that they’re well resourced would be an understatement,” Wray added. “No company is armed to defend against that kind of multi-avenue threat alone and that’s why we’ve got to be working together.”

Wray’s call to action was the latest in a series of dire warnings he has issued about Chinese espionage since he assumed his role at the FBI in 2017. They have risen in urgency since he told a Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2018 that China poses a greater security threat to the US than Russia did.

China is ‘greatest long-term threat’ to the US, FBI director Wray says

Those comments came just hours after the US Justice Department announced the arrest of a top Beijing intelligence official for allegedly trying to steal trade secrets from GE Aviation and other US aerospace companies.

The arrest was followed by the announcement of the department’s “China Initiative”, which was meant to bolster coordination across the US government to stymie Chinese espionage.

These efforts have also prompted an outcry from the Chinese community and civil rights activists concerned that academics and others of Chinese descent were being unfairly targeted, after the acquittal of a University of Tennessee professor, Hu Anming, served to underscore the problem.

US federal judge acquits professor Hu Anming of fraud after push to expose Chinese spies

Wray continued to warn about academics and researchers with connections to China in his address on Thursday.

China is “using intelligence services to go after intellectual property held by the private sector or by our academic institutions, but they’re also using so-called nontraditional collectors – and what I mean by that are businessmen, different kinds of researchers and graduate students, scientists, ostensibly private companies”, he said.

Wray added that many such individuals and organisations are “effectively under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party, all geared towards a common aim of trying to steal our information to put the Chinese government in a way to become the world’s only superpower”.

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