Top intelligence official says China targeting foreign influence at incoming Biden administration

William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said Wednesday that Chinese foreign influence efforts have pivoted since the election to target members of the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

“We’ve seen an uptick, which was planned, and we predicted, that China would now revector their influence campaigns to a new administration,” Evanina said at the Aspen Institute’s virtual Cyber Summit. 

“We are starting to see that now play across the country to not only folks that are in the new administration, but those who are around those folks in the new administration,” he added. “That’s one area we are going to be very keen on making sure the new administration understands, that influence, what it looks like, what it tastes like, what it feels like when you see it.”

Evanina, who described Biden as the president-elect, noted that it was “really important” that Biden be able to see this intelligence. Biden, along with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, received his first daily presidential intelligence briefing earlier this week. 

The Trump administration has taken strong measures to combat Chinese influence efforts, including through closing the nation’s Houston consulate and issuing a series of indictments against Chinese nationals targeting U.S. intellectual property, including through in-person efforts and hacking efforts most recently aimed at stealing COVID-19 research.

Evanina spoke alongside John Demers, the assistant attorney general for National Security at the Justice Department, who noted that due to these efforts and others, “more than 1,000” Chinese People’s Liberation Army-affiliated researchers have left the country. 

Demers advocated for the incoming Biden administration to remain vigilant to foreign influence threats, noting that the “breadth of foreign influence” engaged in by the Chinese government has not been “exposed publicly as it probably will be over the coming years.”

He also pointed to potential concerning lessons learned by other nations after Russia’s election interference in 2016, which involved hacking and disinformation efforts.

Demers specifically cited recent Iranian election interference efforts, with Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray announcing in October that Iranian actors had accessed U.S. voter registration data in at least three states and had used it to target threatening emails at voters. 

“I think our eyes were opened in 2016, but as our eyes were opened more and more of this activity from a variety of countries came into focus,” Demers said. “What we saw with Iran for instance on the election side was other countries learning unfortunately from the misbehavior of others and trying to emulate it, even if not terribly well in that case.”

Tags Biden transition China Christopher Wray intelligence community Iran Joe Biden John Demers John Ratcliffe Justice Department US-China
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