A former Europe station chief for the U.S. intelligence agency CIA acknowledged that the “Chinese intelligence operatives are on a par with the Russians.”
China is already well known for advanced cyber attacks, like the 2021 Microsoft Corp MSFT hack, which compromised 30,000 organizations globally. Hackers linked to the Chinese government exploited a recently discovered vulnerability in Microsoft Office.
Earlier, News Corp NWSA held the China government responsible for a hack of its computer systems. The U.S., E.U., and the U.K. alleged Beijing of resorting to criminal groups to conduct the hacks. Their scale of efforts has alarmed the officials.
China denied the allegations. But China’s human intelligence, or HUMINT, skills have acquired a level of sophistication usually associated with Russian espionage, as per western intelligence officials, the Financial Times writes.
Officials said Russia’s foreign operations typically drew on a tradition of elite case officers trained in spy craft techniques to achieve a specific security objective. However, China has broader aims, ranging from political influence to obtaining commercial or technological secrets.
Russian spying tends to be tightly focused, whereas China’s 2017 intelligence law requires all organizations and citizens” to “support, assist and co-operate with national intelligence efforts.”
The Russians can be clumsy and quite arrogant. However, the Chinese would rather avoid spy scandals because they want to preserve good bilateral relations, the former CIA officer told FT.
A U.S. estimate suggested that Chinese commercial espionage stole up to $600 billion of U.S. intellectual property annually. China has denied the claims. The E.U. has estimated that total I.P. theft costs €50 billion in sales annually, with the loss of 671,000 jobs.
An extra challenge, officials said, is identifying a Chinese spy without resorting to racial profiling. The relationship between the Chinese state and its actors can be tenuous and fluid, claimed intelligence officials.
The western agencies struggled to cope with the volume of cases. The FBI opens a new investigation into Chinese espionage every 12 hours, while British domestic intelligence service MI5’s caseload has risen sevenfold since 2018.
President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan earmarked $20 billion to counter cyber attacks.
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