FBI director calls Chinese students part of ‘whole-of-society’ threat to the US
Chris Wray said that Chinese agents had infiltrated ‘naive’ universities around the country
On Tuesday, FBI Director Chris Wray said that one of the many methods that China is using to overtake the United States as the world’s supreme superpower is through infiltrating its centers of higher learning.
Speaking on Capitol Hill at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual open hearing on the greatest threats to the country, Wray was asked by Marco Rubio — Congress’s leading China-basher — about the “counterintelligence risk” posed to US national security by Chinese students studying in the US, “particularly those in advanced programs in science and mathematics.”
In his response, Wray said that those concerns actually go far beyond just the science and math department, while also describing China as a threat to American society:
The use of non-traditional collectors, especially in the academic setting — whether it’s professors, scientists, students — we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country. It’s not just in major cities. It’s in small ones as well, it’s across basically every discipline. And I think the level of naivete on the part of the academic sector about this creates its own issues.
They’re exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere. But they’re taking advantage of this. One of the things we’re trying to do is to view the Chinese threat as not just a whole of government threat, but a whole-of-society threat, on their end. And I think it’s going to take a whole-of-society response by us. It’s not just the Intelligence Community, but it’s raising awareness within our academic sector, within our private sector, as part of defense.
One Chinese effort that Rubio and Wray would like American universities to be more aware of is Confucius Institutes, educational organizations that are funded by the Chinese government and partner with foreign universities to teach students Mandarin. Over the years, critics have accused these institutes of spreading Chinese propaganda and restricting discussion on college campuses.
Rubio is one such critic, penning a letter earlier this month to five Florida institutions, calling for them to shut down their Confucius Institute programs, which he says are Chinese tools to infiltrate US academia, arguing that they are “instructed to only teach versions of Chinese history, culture or current events that are explicitly approved by the Chinese Government and Communist Party.”
At the Senate hearing, Wray confirmed that the FBI was keeping a “wary” eye on Confucius Institutes operating in the US.
“We do share concerns about the Confucius Institutes. We’ve been watching that development for a while. It’s just one of many tools that they take advantage of,” Wray said.
“We have seen some decrease recently in their own enthusiasm and commitment to that particular program, but it is something that we’re watching warily and in certain instances have developed appropriate investigations into them.”
A Daily Beast article about Wray’s comments includes a number of quotes from Asian American advocates voicing their outrage over how the FBI director had essentially accused Chinese students seeking higher education in the US of spying for their government.
“We cannot have every Chinese student or scientist assumed guilty until proven innocent of a national security threat,” said John C. Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
“We understand there is a real threat coming out of China, but expect that top-notched intelligence agencies have better tools to rely on than racial profiling every Chinese person coming to America.”