Senators Warn the United States is Incapable of Protecting American Innovations, Technology from Foreign Intel Agents

Several lawmakers recently voiced they feared the U.S. government is failing to protect academica, private businesses and students from foreign intelligence officers looking to steal technology and research and increase their influence into American society. 

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee expressed specific concern about China, and issued a report illustrating a disconnect between what the government is authorized to protect and where national security information resides. 

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio stated federal agencies were not developed for the current era of complicated disinformation and misinformation challenges, cyber intrusions, and China’s willingness to play a long game. 

“It’s a long-range plan to look at someone who’s 20 years old today and say, ‘We can shape their narrative about China and Taiwan or China and Tibet or China and Uyghur Muslims in Xinyiang today — 20 years from now these individuals will be running companies or key agencies in government, maybe even elected, and that will help us,’” said Rubio at an intelligence committee hearing.

The report relied on dozens of former and current counterintelligence officials who discovered foreign intelligence entities are not only interested in only state secrets but also want information and data held by universities and businesses and federal agencies outside the intelligence community. 

“The impact of all these challenges is clear: foreign adversaries compromise U.S. assets across the globe, acquire billions of dollars a year in U.S. research and technology, jeopardize the competitiveness of U.S. companies and the economic dominance of the United States, steal sensitive [personally identifiable information] on USG employees and U.S. citizens, and interfered in domestic affairs,” said the report. “The USG cannot allow this situation to continue without serious repercussions for U.S. national security.”

Concerns prompt lawmakers to act

The growing alarms about foreign intelligence efforts against Americans not involved in the intelligence community has prompted lawmakers to take critical action, according to Senator Mark Warner, the intelligence committee’s chairman.

Warner, the Virginia Democrat, said the committee held a series of classified sessions between leaders and the intelligence community from academia and business to brief them on China’s growing efforts. 

In written remarks, Rubio said the FBI must do more collaboration and outreach to warn companies and schools about the threat of China. According to William R. Evanina, former director of United States counterintelligence, when the FBI gets involved its frequently too late to prevent damage. 

“In this area of vulnerabilities of espionage and technology transfers, the Department of Energy, due to their span of critical research including advanced dual-use technologies and nuclear weapons, might be the single most critical department/agency at risk,” Evanina told the committee in a written statement. “When the FBI becomes involved…the damage is already done. The data our adversaries were seeking has left our shores to benefit our adversaries militarily and commercially.”

Recently, the Department of Energy has received fresh scrutiny for its handling of development and research. Earlier, two Republican senators said they pushed for the department’s inspector general to conduct an investigation into why the department allegedly handed over costly U.S. advanced battery technology to China.