Economic security is national security

A nation’s economic security serves as the foundation for its national security. Understanding this principle, the communist government of China has undertaken a relentless campaign to become the world’s economic superpower by all means possible.

The Chinese government is waging a covert war against the United States as they have been steadfast in their attempts to steal our intellectual property and trade secrets. The majority of Chinese thefts have focused on two disparate arenas; American universities and private sector companies. In this venture, they have been wildly successful.  In fact, the independent Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property estimated that Chinese government-backed theft of our intellectual property costs America between $225 and $600 billion each and every year. Why does the Chinese government engage in this activity?  The short answer is that they steal American intellectual property to avoid the long and costly path of innovation and often use it to compete against the same American companies they victimized.

We do not need to look beyond the headlines of local newspapers to read of such recent theft schemes.  Unfortunately, successful acts of technology transfer have already transpired here in the state of Florida.  One example is the investigation of Amin Yu. Yu, a former research assistant at the University of Central Florida in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, was arrested by FBI agents a few years ago after a thorough investigation. The FBI’s work revealed Yu had spent nearly a decade operating as an illegal agent for the government of China in her quest to smuggle underwater drone technology out of our country and into the hands of the Chinese military. Yu ultimately pled guilty to conspiring to commit international money laundering and operating in the U.S. as an illegal agent of a foreign government.

Central Florida is home to countless companies which are potential victims of future theft schemes perpetrated by China. The economic growth happening in our backyard has been rapid and shows no sign of slowing. While this is great news for our community, it creates a target rich environment for China. Local companies developing new technologies, whether they be flight simulator software or biomedical research, are at significant risk of having their data compromised or stolen by China through corporate espionage or forced technology transfer.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have taken action to mitigate China’s intellectual property theft. FBI Director Christopher Wray recently stated, “the FBI has over a thousand investigations involving China’s attempted theft of U.S.-based technology in all 56 of our field offices and spanning just about every industry and sector.” He further said, “the Chinese government is fighting a generational fight to surpass our country in economic and technological leadership.” It’s fair to say most of the U.S. intelligence community would echo his comments.

The existence of Chinese economic espionage is not new, but it is deservedly receiving much-needed attention lately. However, the FBI and federal prosecutors, along with our law enforcement and intelligence partners, cannot stop this threat alone. We are making strides and slowly there is a growing awareness of this threat. The recent public hearings by the Florida House of Representatives Select Committee on the Integrity of Research Institutions demonstrate the state government acknowledges the impact of China’s theft of trade secrets. Our business and academic entities across the region must continue to educate themselves on this persistent threat and take affirmative steps to protect their information and share indicators of potential unlawful activity immediately with the FBI. An uncompromising commitment to the core principles of transparency, and reciprocity, should be at the forefront of any dealings with the Chinese government. Only through a comprehensive, and multi-faceted, partnership among the U.S. private and public sectors can we ensure and preserve our economic and national security.

Michael McPherson is the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office. The Tampa Field Office’s area of responsibility includes 18 counties in Central Florida and has satellite offices in Fort Myers, Sarasota, Clearwater, Lakeland, Orlando and Melbourne.

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