MI5 Director General Ken McCallum (left) and FBI Director Christopher Wray at a joint press conference at MI5 headquarters

MI5 and FBI warn of China’s desire to ‘steal’ Western technology

Image credit: PA Media

The heads of US and UK government security agencies the FBI and MI5, respectively, have issued a joint warning to business leaders about the threats posed by Chinese espionage, highlighting Beijing's desire to “steal” Western technology companies’ intellectual property.

The heads of the FBI and MI5 intelligence agencies have delivered an unprecedented joint address raising alarms about the “game-changing” threat posed by Chinese espionage.  

The FBI's Christopher Wray and MI5's Ken McCallum shared a stage for the first time at the MI5 headquarters in London to warn an audience of industry CEOs and senior figures from universities about the dangers posed by China's reported desire to obtain Western technology to acquire a competitive gain. 

“The Chinese government is set on stealing your technology - whatever it is that makes your industry tick - and using it to undercut your business and dominate your market,” Wray said in the speech.

“Maintaining a technological edge may do more to increase a company’s value than would partnering with a Chinese company to sell into that huge Chinese market, only to find the Chinese government and your partner stealing and copying your innovation.” 

In his speech, Wray reaffirmed the US' longstanding concerns about economic espionage and hacking operations by China, stressing that the FBI has substantially increased its investigations into China in recent years and is currently managing about 2,000 probes, opening on average a new one every day. 

The UK is also planning on stepping up to this reported threat, with McCallum revealing that the national intelligence agency is running seven times as many probes into China as it was four years ago and plans to “grow as much again” to tackle the widespread attempts at inference which pervade “so many aspects of our national life”.

In their speech, the two alleged that the Chinese government is engaged in a “coordinated campaign” to gain access to important technology and to “cheat and steal on a massive scale," stressing that the Chinese government’s hacking programme dwarfs that of every other major country. 

With this joint speech, the two executives demonstrated their intention to "send the clearest signal" to China's Communist Party, fearing that should the country decide to invade Taiwan it would cause  “one of the most horrific business disruptions the world has ever seen,” according to Wray.

Over the last year, the UK has shared intelligence about Chinese cyber threats with 37 countries. Last May, authorities reportedly disrupted a “sophisticated threat” against aerospace companies, McCallum said. He also cited other examples of Chinese interference, including the case of a British aviation expert who offered an “attractive employment opportunity” in which he travelled twice to China, where he revealed technical information on military aircraft to the country's authorities. 

The case of Christine Lee, a suspected Chinese spy accused of targeting MPs, further raised alarms about increasing levels of espionage by China, a fear that led to visa reforms which, according to McCallum, have seen 50 students linked to the Chinese military, known as the People’s Liberation Army, leave the UK.

In the US, the FBI director said the Chinese government had directly interfered in a congressional election in New York this spring because they did not want a candidate who was a critic and former protester at Tiananmen Square to be elected.

“China has for far too long counted on being everybody’s second-highest priority,” said Wray. “They are not flying under the radar anymore.”

In response to the accusations by both officials, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said British intelligence was trying to "hype up the China threat theory" and he advised the head of MI5 to "cast away imagined demons".

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles