Bureau director Christopher Wray called China’s government’s the “greatest long-term threat” to the future of the United States and said: “The stakes could not be higher – China is engaged in a whole-of-state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary.” He issued the warning while speaking to the Hudson Institute in Washington adding Beijing was engaged in an extensive economic espionage offensive which included data and monetary theft and unlawful political actions, employing bribery and blackmail to undermine the US.
He said: “We’ve now reached a point where the FBI is now opening a new China-related counter-intelligence case every 10 hours.
“Of the nearly 5,000 active counter-intelligence cases currently underway across the country, almost half are related to China.”
He said Chinese President Xi Jinping had initiated a scheme dubbed “Fox Hunt,” targeting Chinese citizens living abroad considered menaces to the Chinese government and added: “We’re talking about political rivals, dissidents, and critics seeking to expose China’s extensive human rights violations.
“The Chinese government wants to force them to return to China, and China’s tactics to accomplish that are shocking.
“When it couldn’t locate one Fox Hunt target, the Chinese government sent an emissary to visit the target’s family here in the United States.
“The message they said to pass on? The target had two options: return to China promptly, or commit suicide.”
Asked whether potential Chinese interference in the upcoming elections represented a threat to the FBI, Mr Wray said China’s “malign foreign influence campaign” was a year-round concern rather than “an election specific threat”.
However, China’s attempts to influence US policy had “implications for elections, and they certainly have preferences that go along with that,” he said.
China has previously been accused of hacking into US government systems.
The purported infiltration of the Office of Personnel Management was one of the most notorious cases, as the hackers obtained sensitive data on around 20 million US federal government staff members.
The attack was part of far-reaching efforts by China to “identify people for secret intelligence gathering,” Mr Wray said.
The hack also indicated there are possible cybersecurity concerns as the 2020 election approaches, said Nina Jankowicz, a former Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellow at the US State Department.
Ms Jankowicz is currently disinformation fellow at Washington-based think tank the Wilson Centre.
She said: “It would be difficult to hack all of the US voting systems at once, but you might not need to hack all of them at once. What you need to do is just cast doubt on to the vote tallying in one race.
“Once you have cast that doubt, then people aren’t going to trust in the results and we get into a very sticky situation as we’re trying to declare a winner.”
But according to Chinese officials, China has no intention to affect this year’s elections, following claims by US President Donald Trump that Beijing would do “anything they can” to frustrate his re-election.
Ms Jankowicz said: “We’ve made some sparing investments in our election infrastructure, but I think we need to do a lot more.
“Unfortunately that issue has been politicised, but hopefully we’ve gotten up to the point where those basic security loopholes are not exploited ahead of the vote in November.”