FBI Director Wray: China’s Spying Efforts in US ‘Blew Me Away’

FBI Director Wray: China's Spying Efforts in US 'Blew Me Away' Christopher Wray speaking at the Department of Justice FBI Director Christopher Wray announces law enforcement actions related to the illegal sale of drugs and other illicit goods and services on the Darknet during a press conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22, 2020. (OLIVIER DOULIERY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

By Charlie McCarthy | Wednesday, 02 February 2022 08:44 AM

FBI Director Christopher Wray told NBC News that his agency opens two new China-related counter-intelligence investigations every day.

"There is no country that presents a broader, more severe threat to our innovation, our ideas and our economic security than China does," Wray told NBC News.

Wray said the breadth of Chinese efforts to steal U.S. technology shocked him when he became director in 2017.

"This one blew me away," he told NBC News. "And I’m not the kind of guy that uses words like 'blown away' easily."

On average, the FBI opens a new China-related counter-intelligence investigation every 12 hours, Wray said. More than 2,000 such cases currently are underway.

In a speech at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, on Monday, Wray said China’s economy and business dealings with the U.S. made the Chinese Communist Party a bigger threat than the Soviet Union ever was.

"China's government has the global reach and presence of a great nation but it refuses to act the part," Wray told the library event attendees.

"Too often, it uses its capabilities to steal and threaten, rather than cooperate and build. And this threat … those threats are happening right here in America literally every day."

Wray said that China has no equal when it comes to technology theft committed remotely through computer intrusions.

"The scale of their hacking program, and the amount of personal and corporate data that their hackers have stolen, is greater than every other country combined," Wray told NBC News.

While nations such as North Korea, Russia and Iran also have carried out sustained attacks on American computer networks, Wray said China remains the No.1 threat.

"There’s just no other country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, innovation and economic security than China," he told NBC News.

The FBI also has accused Chinese spies of targeting U.S. innovations such as COVID vaccines, nuclear power plants, wind turbines and smartphones.

Wray also cited China's pressure tactics to block criticism from dissidents and members of the immigrant community in the U.S.

"China may be the first country to combine that kind of authoritarian ambition with cutting-edge technical capability," he told NBC News. "It’s like the surveillance nightmare of East Germany combined with the tech of Silicon Valley."

He cited the example of Zhihao Kong, a graduate student at Purdue University in 2020 when he publicly praised student protesters killed in 1989 at Tiananmen Square.

Kong said China’s Ministry of State Security then visited his parents in China to warn them about their son’s activism.