02:15 GMT08 May 2021
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    Despite hopes by some in China and the fears of GOP politicians in the US, Biden has not backtracked on the last administration’s ‘tough guy’ approach to Beijing. In recent months, Washington has stepped up its sanctions rhetoric, sent more warships to the Taiwan Strait, accused the PRC of ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang and ramped up the tech war.

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation is starting several new China-related investigations every day, agency director Christopher Wray has announced.

    “We’re opening a new investigation into China every 10 hours, and I can assure the committee that it’s not because our folks don’t have anything to do with their time,” Wray said, speaking to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday during its annual ‘worldwide threats’ hearing.

    “We now have over 2,000 investigations that tie back to the Chinese government,” Wray added, noting that the bureau has seen a 1,300 percent jump in cases of China-tied economic espionage cases in recent years.

    Wray pointed to one particularly problematic Chinese government operation, known as “Fox Hunt,” which he claimed involved Chinese forces carrying out “uncoordinated” and “illegal law enforcement activity” on US soil to “threaten, intimidate, harass” or “blackmail” members of the Chinese diaspora. China launched Operation Fox Hunt in 2014 as a means to target individuals accused of fleeing China after engaging in corruption or other criminal activities. Hundreds of Chinese nationals have been repatriated to China to face charges thanks to the programme. The US has repeatedly protested against the scheme, characterising it as a threat to US national security.

    The domestic spy chief went on to call China the number one threat to America’s “innovation, our economic security and our democratic ideals. And the tools in their toolbox to influence our businesses, our academic institutions, our governments at all levels are deep and wide and persistent.”

    CIA Director William Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, who joined Wray at Wednesday’s committee hearing, agreed with him regarding the scope and scale of China’s “threat” to America.

    Haines called the People’s Republic a “near-peer competitor challenging the United States in multiple arenas, while pushing to revise global norms in ways that favour the authoritarian Chinese system”. She also repeated previously express suspicions by the US intelligence community that the coronavirus pandemic which has plagued the planet for the last year may have accidentally escaped from a Chinese lab, while admitting that US intelligence service cannot say anything definitively about that. Burns accused Beijing of failing to be transparent about Covid-19’s origins.

    Haines also listed other threats to America, including Russia, Iran and North Korea, with Moscow accused of a campaign of cyberattacks targeting US infrastructure and seeking to ‘undermine US influence’ globally, while Tehran and Pyongyang were charged with causing instability in the Middle East or “driving wedges” between Washington and its Asian allies.

    Together, these four countries “have demonstrated the capability and intent to advance their interests at the expense of the United States and its allies, despite the pandemic,” the intelligence assessment suggests.

    Repeat of Last Year’s Claims

    Wray seems to have presented Wednesday assessment on the basis of old talking points. Last July, he similarly reported that the FBI was opening a China-related counterintelligence investigation approximately “once every ten hours”, and said at the time that nearly half of the agency’s roughly 5,000 counterintelligence cases were related to the Asian nation.

    The intelligence assessment follow’s Tuesday’s announcement by the Department of Justice that the FBI has been quietly hacking into “hundreds” of vulnerable computers in US companies, ostensibly to remove Chinese malware from their systems. The DoJ said the hacks were “court-authorised,” and aimed at disrupting hacking activity using all the tools authorities have at their disposal beyond prosecutions.

    The hacks come in the wake of claims by Microsoft that China carried out a massive, systematic attack on the software giant’s Exchange email service in March. China vocally dismissed all claims of involvement, saying it opposes and combats cyberattacks and theft “in all forms”. Beijing called on Washington to provide proof before hurling such “highly sensitive” accusations.

    The hack attack claims come amid broader geopolitical, economic, technological and military tensions between Beijing and Washington, which have continued to escalate under Biden to what Western observers have suggested are the worst since the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square.

    Attribution of hack attacks is often made difficult due to the capability by the intelligence services of major powers to ‘spoof’ their victims and make it seem like an attack is coming from one location while it’s actually coming from somewhere else. Last summer, veteran cryptographer and National Security Agency whistleblower Bill Binny told Sputnik that US intelligence services have the ability to spoof attacks to make them seem like they’re coming from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea or a host of other nations. Other major powers are likely to have similar capabilities.

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