Chinese cyber threat ‘unparalleled,’ FBI director says

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(WASHINGTON) — The Chinese cyber threat is “unparalleled” by any other national security challenge seen by the U.S. government, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

China, seemingly gearing up to invade Taiwan within years or even months, poses the most significant threat to the United States more broadly, Wray said during Thursday testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee.

“They’ve got a bigger hacking program than every other major nation,” Wray said.

“There’s no country that presents a more significant threat to our innovation, our ideas, our economic security, our national security than Chinese government. And that’s why we’ve grown the number of investigations into threats from China about 1300%,” he added.

The Chinese government has taken steps to intimidate expatriates who speak out against the country’s domestic crackdowns on civil liberties and aggressive international posture. Last week, the FBI arrested two men for operating an illegal Chinese police station in New York, which DOJ says was set up to harass dissidents in the United States.

“It’s frankly outrageous,” he said. “The Chinese government would think that they could set up shop here on our soil, and conduct uncoordinated unsanctioned illegal law enforcement operations, and unfortunately, it fits in with a pattern of the Chinese government trying to basically run willy-nilly disregard for the rule of law and threaten, harass, stalk surveil dissidents.”

China has been ramping up its technological abilities in recent months, a national push memorably encapsulated by a Chinese spy balloon traversing U.S. soil in February.

But China, the director said, is just the tip of the cyber iceberg.

“China is not the only challenge in cyberspace. Not even close,” he said, noting the department is investigating over 100 different ransomware variants.

“So, in addition to China countries like Russia, Iran, and North Korea, and it is getting more and more challenging to discern where the nation state threat ends, and the cybercriminal threat again,” he continued.

Wray said the “unbelievably dangerous” nature of the dark web could imperil individuals via coordinated criminal activity such as drug trafficking.

“[It’s] everything from certainly things like fentanyl, as we already talked about, but also all the way over to stolen credentials to log into somebody’s network, or you can hire a hitman,” he said. “I mean we’ve even had WMD type products, if you will, being marketed on the dark net. So, it really is a kind of soup-to-nuts, a place of just unbelievably dangerous criminal activity.”

The director said the FBI is focused on combatting the “threat” of gangs and cartels moving fentanyl through the U.S. and said the FBI is investigating some of the top brass of the cartels in Mexico.

“We’re now pursuing investigations against transnational organized criminal groups in all 56 FBI field offices and have more than 300, close to 400, now active investigations into cartel leadership,” he said.

Wray, who called on Mexico to “help us with this problem,” also touched on migration, saying he anticipates that the FBI’s DNA collections will increase by at least 30,000 with the lifting of pandemic-era Title 42 expedited processing of migrants. For some populations who are arrested along the U.S.-Mexico border, the FBI collects DNA and is required to do so by law for some who are arrested.

When Wray was asked about the politicization of the FBI, just one day after the House narrowly passed a 22% reduction in funding for the bureau, he emphasized that there are no political appointees, except for himself, in the FBI.

“I’ve put in place all kinds of new policies, procedures, training, systems, enhancements, all to reinforce that sort of top line message,” he said. “We’re going to follow the facts wherever they lead, no matter who likes it.”

Wray said that a decrease in funding for the FBI would mean more violent criminals on the street and “hundreds more predators on the loose and hundreds more kids left at their mercy.”

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