China’s growing expertise with computers is a bigger threat to the United States than Russia’s attempts to influence American elections.
That claim comes from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats. He warns that China is on a path to possibly become more powerful than any other country.
Coats spoke at a cyber security conference this week at The Citadel military college in Charleston, South Carolina.
The U.S. official said China’s slow and careful operations helped the government escape the kind of publicity that has followed Russia’s actions.
Most worrisome, he said, is the way in which the government is using its ties with the rest of the world to test and improve its computer technology in China.
Coats said China has used its campaign on Muslims in the Xinjiang area as a testing ground for such technology.
Intelligence officials and human rights groups estimate that China has detained more than 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslims, including families and children. The detainees reportedly have been sent to re-education centers, where they are forced to reject their religion and their culture.
Intelligence gathering measures
But Coats said the re-education centers are just the start. He warned that officials in China’s Northwest have set up high-tech spying operations, including the collection of DNA and other biological information.
Coats added that China is experimenting with a "social credit ratings program," using computers to decide access to bank loans, schooling and even medical care.
He warned that the Chinese government also "threatens the export of these tools” to other governments.
An attempt to reach China’s embassy in Washington for reaction to Coats' comments went unanswered.
One Chinese official said last week that China’s use of information technology is no more invasive than that used by Western countries like Britain.
Some U.S. officials fear China could use Chinese-made products to spy on Americans.
Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is one of them.
"Do I have concerns with the Chinese?" he said. "Huge concerns with regards to their ability to leverage their industry."
Already, the U.S. Defense Department has banned on its military bases the sale of mobile telephones by two Chinese companies because of possible security risks.
And military officials, like Ashley, are increasingly worried about the large number of Chinese-made parts in computers and the effect that could have.
Ashley said, "My bigger concern may not necessarily be what's taking place on the battlespace if I can't turn the power on."
The U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center reported in July that Chinese cyber spying mostly targets businesses working with the defense department. But the report said it also spies on information technology and communications companies.
U.S. intelligence officials are also increasingly concerned that China’s efforts, while methodical, are becoming increasingly aggressive.
China is no longer "hiding its strengths” Coats warned.
He said that China is working against the shared values of the international community, including protecting, in his words, "personal privacy, the free flow of information and the protection of commercial secrets."
I'm Caty Weaver.
Jeff Seldin reported this story for VOA News. George Grow adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
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Words in This Story
access – n. permission; the ability to enter or use something
leverage – n. effectiveness; the use of credit