One expert, William Evanina, a former director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center under former President Donald Trump, even likened China to a terrorist organization.
“I would offer to the subcommittee that we are in a terrorism event,” said Evanina. “A slow, methodical, strategic, persistent and enduring event, which requires in response a degree of urgency of action.”
Former counterintelligence officials ticked through a list of alleged threats Thursday, from cyber breaches to surveillance to critical infrastructure.
“We have an economic superpower that’s stealing our technology, that’s leaping ahead on weapons, that can strike us right here in the homeland,” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella.
The hearing followed the release of the intelligence community’s unclassified annual threat assessment report, and allows lawmakers to ask questions or raise concerns.
On the war front, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be focused on more modest military objectives now, and outlined how Russia could focus more on defending the land already taken while prolonging for years the war with Ukraine.
Intelligence officials maintained that China’s burgeoning relationship with Moscow will continue to grow while limiting its public support. Some officials believe China may be uncomfortable providing weapons to Russia.
“We can no longer just pay attention to who has the most tanks, airplanes or missiles,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., committee chair.
Former FBI Special Agent James Gagliano told NewsNation that every year, the Senate Intelligence Committee and top intelligence officials focus on the four bad state actors: China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. He said China has become the biggest threat today due to the asymmetrical warfare on mining U.S. data and intelligence.
“The FBI director summed it up by saying technology and economic security are inextricably intertwined with national security. This is … definitely concerning,” Gagliano said.
Officials listed growing concerns over Americans’ use of TikTok, which the FBI sees as synonymous with handing over personal information to the Chinese government.
“Could they use it to drive narratives to divide Americans against each other? Or, for example, let’s say China wants to invade Taiwan, to make sure that Americans are seeing videos arguing why Taiwan belongs to China, why the U.S. should not intervene,” ranking Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray responded to Rubio, backing his concern by saying, “Yes, and I would make the point, on that last one in particular, that we’re not sure that we would see many of the outward signs of it happening if it was happening.”
“They want to get military secrets, they want to steal state secrets and also the theft of intellectual property. They steal billions and billions of dollars worth of intellectual property from US corporations every year. And this is a tough thing, because partly, we give it away to them,” Gagliano said.
However, the intelligence leaders shared how China still believes in easing some of the tension with the U.S. as it deals with a slowing economy and other issues of its own.
NewsNation reporter Evan Lambert contributed to this report.