China has stolen enough sensitive U.S. data to compile dossiers on every American adult and many U.S. children, according to former deputy national security advisor Matthew Pottinger on Wednesday.
During a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pottinger said, “Assembling dossiers on people has always been a feature of Leninist
regimes. But Beijing’s penetration of digital networks worldwide has taken
this to a new level. The party compiles dossiers on millions of foreign
citizens around the world, using the material it gathers to influence and
intimidate, reward and blackmail, flatter and humiliate, divide and
“Beijing has stolen sensitive data sufficient to build a dossier on every American adult—and on many of our children, too, who are fair game under Beijing’s rules of political warfare,” Pottinger added.
Pottinger said China has been able to collect troves of U.S. data by exploiting U.S. social media platforms.
“Over the past few years, Beijing has flooded U.S. platforms with
overt and covert propaganda, amplified by proxies and bots,” Pottinger said. “The propaganda is focused not only on promoting whitewashed narratives of Beijing’s policies, but also on exacerbating social tensions within the United States and other target nations.”
Pottinger said a recent example of how China has exacerbated social tensions in the U.S. included promoting content that questions the efficacy of safety of U.S. and western-made COVID-19 vaccines.
Former National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) director Bill Evanina, who also testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, said China’s Ministry of State Security, the People’s Liberation Army, and the United Front Work Department of China are all part of China’s data collection efforts, which Evanina called a “comprehensive and whole of country approach to their efforts to invest, leverage, infiltrate, influence and steal from every corner of U.S. success.”
“The willingness of China, and its intelligence services, to illegally, and
legally obtain DATA to drive artificial intelligence, research and development programs, and to facilitate their military and economic goals without doing the hard work to independently develop on their own, drives at the heart of China’s unfair practices,” Evanina said. “From genomics and DNA, to third party financial data stored in cloud service providers, to fertility, to Internet of Things technology, the effort du jour is accumulation of data, and lots of it.”
Evanina also described some of the efforts China has used to get Chinese students and other people in the U.S. to become “nontraditional collectors” of information, in some cases spying for China without even knowing it. Evanina said many times people will end up working with people and entities linked to the Chinese government and not even know it, or manipulate Chinese students studying in the U.S. to collect information for China.
Evanina said that of the approximately 328,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S., all of them are “forced to have Chinese phones with WeChat so the Chinese can monitor them here. So when you are here, whether as a student or researcher, and you get a call from the [China’s] Ministry of State Security asking you to do something for them and your grandmother is sick or your father needs a job, you are going to do whatever they ask you to do.”