I missed this 60 Minutes story when it aired last night so maybe you did too. The “five eyes” are a group of five countries (US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) formed after World War II as a joint intelligence gathering operation. Last week, leading figures from all five countries met in Palo Alto, California to spread the word about a threat they don’t think most people working in US technology fully understand. That threat is the unprecedented level of espionage directed by China at technology companies around the world. China is quite literally trying to steal anything and everything it can at levels never seen before.
Christopher Wray: The People’s Republic of China represents the defining threat of this generation this era. There is no country that presents a broader, more comprehensive threat to our ideas, our– our innovation, our economic security, and ultimately our national security. We have seen efforts by the Chinese government, directly or indirectly, trying to steal intellectual property, trade secrets, personal data– all across the country. We’re talking everything from Fortune 100 companies, all to smaller startups. We’re talking about agriculture, biotech, health care, robotics, aviation, academic research. We probably have somewhere in the order of 2,000 active investigations that are just related to the Chinese government’s effort to steal information.
Scott Pelley: But all countries spy.
Mike Burgess of Australia.
Mike Burgess: Yes, absolutely, all countries spy. Our countries spy. All governments have a need to be covertly informed. All countries seek strategic advantage. But the behavior we’re talking about here goes well beyond traditional espionage. This scale of the theft is unprecedented in human history. And that’s why we’re calling it out…
Ken McCallum is director general of MI5, the U.K.’s FBI.
Ken McCallum: So we see the theft happening in a range of ways. One is that we see employees within those companies being manipulated. Often, in the first instance, they are not aware of what is happening. We have seen, for example, the use of professional networking sites to reach out in sort of masked, disguised ways to people in the U.K., either who have security clearance or who are working in interesting areas of technology. We’ve now seen over 20,000 examples of that kind of disguised approach to people in the U.K. who have information that the Chinese State wishes to get its hands on.
This topic has been flying under the radar all year. It never goes away but it rarely gets the sustained attention it deserves. In February the country was transfixed by a Chinese spy balloon which passed over some sensitive military sites. Did the embarrassing coverage of that incident slow China’s roll? Not at all, it seems. In March the NY Times Magazine published a story about China’s espionage campaign and how it operates. In June there were reports China might replace its spy balloons with a more permanent spy installation in Cuba. Then there was the story about China hacking the email of Commerce Secretary Raimondo. In August, two US Navy service members were arrested for spying on behalf of China. Just last month there were reports about a Chinese spy in Parliament. Also last month the general who least the US Air Force warned that China was targeting US troops. There was also a story at the WSJ about Chinese nationals posing as tourists to enter US military bases. China’s government is an aggressive, belligerent thief which will do whatever it needs to to gain an advantage over the free world. Here’s how FBI Director Wray put it.
Christopher Wray: I mean, essentially what you have with the Chinese government is the autocracy and oppressive regime of– you know, East Germany combined with the cutting edge technology of Silicon Valley. And the combination represents a daunting first of its kind threat for the United States and for our allies.
Here’s the full interview with the Five Eyes leadership. It’s good to see them taking this threat seriously and trying to raise some awareness about the problem publicly. China will not stop this behavior unless we stop them.