Updated: Oct 11, 2021
On July 7, 2020, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray made several startling revelations while speaking to the Hudson Institute in Washington DC. Mr. Wray announced that the People's Republic of China was actively supporting dozens of multi-pronged disruption and intelligence operations within the United States. These operations were formulated with the aim of advancing Chinese interests and stymieing American power. When concluding his remarks, Wray bluntly noted that out of the nearly 5,000 active counterintelligence cases actively being pursued by the FBI, half are related to the government in Beijing.
China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), alongside the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is responsible for conducting intelligence operations in the United States on behalf of Beijing. Since its establishment in 1983, the MSS has developed quite the reputation for brutality and effectiveness. In the election of 1996, the organization indirectly supported incumbent William J. Clinton’s campaign with a series of donations. In 2001, the FBI reveled that the MSS had donated millions to congressional campaigns, effectively attempting to bribe government officials to change policy for the benefit of China. More recently, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s driver, a Chinese immigrant, was arrested by the FBI after being recruited by the MSS. In 2017, the FBI also arrested an American State Department employee who had passed classified material to the MSS without authorization. In 2018, a Department of Justice report estimated that nearly 3,000 companies registered in the United States are in fact covers for MSS agents, and serve only as conduits for economic and research intelligence. The Ministry also regularly uses China's 1,500 diplomats, 369,548 students, visiting delegations, and tourists as covers for its agents conducting espionage and intelligence collection in the US.
MSS’s most high profile operation in recent memory came to an end on June 11, 2020. Xin Wang, an officer with the People’s Liberation Army, entered the United States on a J1 non-immigrant visa in December of 2018. On his visa application, Wang stated that he had served as an Associate Professor in Medicine in the PLA and retired from the service in 2016. However, when interviewed by federal agents while trying to board a flight to China at Los Angeles International Airport in June, Wang changed his story. Wang made clear he was still an officer in the PLA, holding the rank of major. He went on to claim that he worked on behalf of the Chinese government while studying at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) laboratory. According to the FBI and DOJ, his mission was to observe the layout and technology used in the UCSF lab and replicated it upon his return to the People's Republic. While conducting an investigation, agents discovered that Wang hid confidential studies from UCSF in his luggage and sent research to his lab in China via email.
In his speech, Wray noted that the United States is indirectly supporting China's rise to superpower status, "To put it bluntly, this means American taxpayers are effectively footing the bill for China’s own technological development. China then leverages its ill-gotten gains to undercut U.S. research institutions and companies, blunting our nation’s advancement and costing American jobs. And we are seeing more and more of these cases."