The US intelligence community must urgently refocus its efforts and resources towards addressing the threat posed by China, a glaring need that has only become more apparent due to Beijing’s actions during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the summary of a highly classified report released by the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday.
The partially redacted 37-page report, which marks the culmination of a two-year review conducted by committee staff, states that the intelligence community has “not sufficiently adapted to a changing geopolitical and technological environment increasingly shaped by a rising China.”
“Absent a significant realignment of resources, the US government and intelligence community will fail to achieve the outcomes required to enable continued US competition with China on the global stage for decades to come, and to protect the US health and security,” the unclassified summary reads.
In a statement Wednesday, Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee chairman, summarized the findings by saying “our nation’s intelligence agencies have a lot of work to do to fully address the challenge posed by China.”
“The stakes are enormous. We must do everything possible to accurately predict and characterize Beijing’s intent, or we will continue to struggle to understand how and why the leadership of the CCP makes decisions, and fail to respond effectively. The good news is that we still have time to adapt,” he added.
The committee’s release on Wednesday comes at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing fueled by a breakdown in trade talks between the two countries and public accusations over who is to blame for the coronavirus pandemic.
The Trump administration has recently indicted several Chinese individuals and entities for alleged espionage and intellectual property theft — actions that are also highlighted in the committee report, which notes that in 2019 alone, three former Intelligence Community officers were charged by US prosecutors and sentenced to prison “for delivering or seeking to deliver classified information” to China’s intelligence services.
The committee report also notes that China has “begun to engage in coordinated inauthentic online behavior and activities to covertly and overtly shape public discourse on topics of importance” to the Communist Party.
“In the midst of the Hong Kong protests in August 2019, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube all identified and removed a series of accounts (including likely “bots”), pages, networks, and channels that were engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior and disinformation operations targeting the Hong Kong protests,” the report notes.
“This marked the first large-scale takedown of a suspected Chinese state-backed influence operation online,” it adds.
Trump has adopted an aggressive posture toward Beijing
President Donald Trump has highlighted his administration’s aggressive posture toward China as a core tenet of his reelection campaign but that message has, at times, been muddied by claims of Beijing’s efforts to interfere in the upcoming presidential election that go well beyond what the intelligence community has said publicly.
Specifically, Trump and many of his appointees have sought to achieve the same goal: playing up the theory that China is meddling to get Democratic nominee Joe Biden elected, while downplaying well-founded reports that Russia is trying to help Trump win again, like it did in 2016.
While the intelligence community has assessed that China prefers Trump to lose in November, officials have offered no indication, to date, that Beijing is acting on that preference in the same way as Russia, according to public statements issued by the intelligence community and sources familiar with the underlying evidence.
“We assess that China prefers that President Trump — whom Beijing sees as unpredictable — does not win reelection. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China,” the top US intelligence official on election security, Bill Evanina, said in an unprecedented public statement issued last month.
Evanina went on to say, “China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action,” but to date has primarily engaged in overt efforts like ramping up public criticism of the current administration over non-election-related issues, including its coronavirus response and move to close Beijing’s consulate in Houston.
Despite the ongoing dispute over election interference, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and administration officials agree that China poses a significant threat to US interests long term.
Pandemic has reinforced the urgent need for ‘robust’ intelligence collection
In order to ensure that the US can compete with China going forward, the intelligence community must provide policy-makers with information that helps them understand how and why the Communist Party’s leadership makes decisions, according to Schiff.
The Chinese Communist government’s handling of the pandemic and attempts to obfuscate its role in the crisis, only reinforces the urgent need for “robust” intelligence collection and analysis of activities within China, according to the summary.
“In late 2019, the emergence of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China demonstrated to the world the profound danger associated with transnational crises originating within China’s borders. China’s enduring interest in preserving its own domestic political stability and international image in lieu of fostering a transparent and effective approach to public health, placed the United States, our allies, and the world at risk,” the report notes.
“Moreover, China’s public response has been to further obfuscate the Chinese Communist Party’s role in this international health crisis through the calculated promotion of fringe conspiracy theories and misinformation seeking to shift blame to the United States, muddy the truth about the virus’s origins, and promote the image of China as a responsible global leader,” it adds. “Beijing’s complicity in stopping scientific inquiries into the origin of the virus, and its disdain for accountability, require a strong US response.”
More broadly, the committee assessed that China’s intelligence services will continue to pose a formidable challenge to the US going forward and will require “equal parts ingenuity, humility, and vigilance to address.”
This piece was originally published at CNN.