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San Francisco is a ‘nirvana’ for China’s main intelligence agency

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San Francisco
China
reportedly sees San Francisco and Silicon Valley as top
priorities in terms of economic and cyber
espionage.

Robert
Galbraith/Reuters


  • San Francisco and Silicon Valley are top priorities for
    Beijing’s efforts to steal US trade and technological
    secrets.
  • California is the only state where China’s main
    intelligence agency has a dedicated unit focused on “political
    intelligence and influence operations.”
  • Tech firms — even those with high-level government
    contracts — are apparently unprepared to respond to espionage
    and have few incentives to report such activities.

San Francisco and Silicon Valley are top targets for China’s main
intelligence agency and Beijing’s efforts to steal billion of
dollars in US trade and technological secrets are only set to
increase,
according to a new report from Politico

The intelligence offensive being launched by foreign
governments and led by China could also signal how they intend to
operate in other US states and countries in the years to come,
the Politico report states.

The national conversation regarding espionage might be dominated
by discussions of Russian election interference, which is
certainly a serious threat, but China’s activities out West are
reportedly becoming more and more sophisticated. 

Russia and even US allies, such as South Korea and Israel, are
also allegedly quite active in the region. 

But it’s China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), the
country’s primary intelligence agency, that has placed particular
emphasis on California. 

China is dedicating a lot of attention to spying in
California

According to the Politico report, California is the only
state where the MSS has a dedicated unit focused on “political
intelligence and influence operations.”

This is reportedly linked to the fact there are a
significant number of influential Chinese immigrants and a large
population of Chinese-Americans in the area, and MSS sees
potential for recruiting local officials who might be able to
move up the political latter. 

Chinese officials also allegedly pressure Chinese nationals
based in California into helping them gather intelligence on tech
companies by using their family members back home as leverage or
threatening students with a loss of government
funding. 

Tech firms – even those with high-level government
contracts – are also apparently unprepared to respond to
espionage and have few incentives to report such activities,
according to the Politico report. This is reportedly linked to
the fact the local communities are quite liberal and the
companies might fear being accused of profiling if they singled
out Chinese employees, for example. 

There have also reportedly been situations in which
employees of tech companies have sold information to the Chinese
or Russian governments and the executives decided not to pursue
charges because they didn’t want their stockholders or investors
to know. In short, the tech companies would rather avoid the bad
press than see employees face legal repercussions for potential
espionage. 

In this context, one former US official reportedly told
Politico that San Francisco is like a “nirvana” for MSS.

 

‘They have all the time in the world, and all the patience
in the world’

Kathleen Puckett, who worked counterintelligence in the Bay
Area from 1979 to 2007, told Politico, “The Chinese just
have vast resources.”

“They have all the time in the world, and all the patience
in the world,” Puckett added. “Which is what you need more than
anything.”

These sentiments were echoed by FBI Director Christopher
Wray at the Aspen Security Forum last week. 

“China from a counterintelligence perspective represents
the broadest, most pervasive, most threatening challenge we face
as a country,” Wray said. The FBI director has consistently
warned of China’s efforts in this regard.

Similarly, a government report released on Thursday warned
China, Russia, and Iran are ramping up cyber espionage efforts in
the US and pose a 
“significant threat to America’s prosperity.”

“Foreign economic and industrial espionage against the
United States continues to represent a significant threat to
America’s prosperity, security and competitive advantage,” the
National Counterintelligence and Security Center said.

“China, Russia and Iran stand out as three of the most
capable and active cyber actors tied to economic espionage and
the potential theft of US trade secrets and proprietary
information.”

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