FBI and MI5 leaders raise joint alarm on Chinese spying threat

7 Jul 2022

Image: © natanaelginting/Stock.adobe.com

In their first joint speech, FBI and MI5 leaders said the threat of Chinese spying is the ‘most game-changing challenge we face’ and puts various organisations at risk.

The heads of UK and US security services have issued a joint warning on the “growing threat” that Chinese espionage poses for organisations.

MI5 director general Ken McCallum said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is covertly applying global pressure and is the “most game-changing challenge we face”. He described the threat as a “coordinated campaign on a grand scale” and a “strategic contest across decades”.

Appearing with FBI director Christopher Wray at MI5’s London headquarters, McCallum warned about the economic threat from Chinese spying operations. He said the “technology, research and commercial advantage” held by businesses and universities are at risk of CCP “aggression”.

“The widespread Western assumption that growing prosperity within China and increasing connectivity with the West would automatically lead to greater political freedom has, I’m afraid, been shown to be plain wrong,” McCallum added.

“But the CCP is interested in our democratic, media and legal systems. Not to emulate them, sadly, but to use them for its gain.”

This joint warning marked the first time that FBI and MI5 leaders have shared a public platform. This was done to send the “clearest signal” about the growing threat, McCallum said.

He added that MI5 has more than doubled its “previously constrained effort” against Chinese activity. It is running seven times as many investigations as it was in 2018, with plans to “grow as much again”.

Wray warned of the growing cyberthreat from China and said the country has a hacking programme larger than that of every other major country combined, BBC reports.

McCallum appealed to organisations to take steps for protection, such as reaching out to advisers and reporting any concerns.

“Please take advantage of the advice that’s available,” he said. “No set of guidance can cater with precision for each and every situation: I’m afraid I can’t make this simple for you.

“The answers have to lie in combining our unique knowledge of the threats, with your unique knowledge of your business.”

McCallum said MI5 will also maintain “significant effort” against Russian and Iranian covert threats. Last month, Microsoft said Russian has stepped up its cyberattacks since the start of its invasion of Ukraine, with attacks aimed particularly at the US, Baltic countries and NATO countries.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic