Thursday, November 9, 2023

My Threatcon Column: Five Eyes On Threats From China And Emerging Technologies

Counterterrorism magazine’s website posted my latest Threatcon column. 

You can read the column via the below link or the below text:

IACSP - ThreatCon Articles

On October 17th, there was an historic meeting of the “Five Eyes” intelligence agency chiefs.

The chiefs of the Five Eyes intelligence partnership - the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand - traveled to the U.S. at the invitation of FBI Director Christopher Wray.

The Five Eyes partnership grew from a 1946 agreement after the end of World War II to share intelligence and coordinate security efforts. The five member countries have a long history of trust and cooperation, and they share a commitment to common values.

As reported by the FBI, the Five Eyes leaders launched the first Emerging Technology and Securing Innovation Security Summit in Palo Alto, California in the heart of Silicon Valley. In addition to the Five Eyes, the summit also had in attendance, business leaders, government representatives, and members of academia who discussed threats to innovation, and how to work together to advance both economic security and public safety.

The summit offered a “fireside chat” with all five chiefs and hosted by former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice. The intelligence chiefs spoke of current threats to private sector organizations in their respective countries, and there were later closed-door discussions with the intelligence chiefs and members from the private sector about the threats posed by China and emerging technologies.

During the fireside chat FBI Director Christopher Wray called the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) the foremost threat to global innovation and stated that partnerships are the best way to fight back.

"There is no greater threat to innovation than the Chinese government, and it is a measure of how seriously the five of us and our services take that threat that we have chosen to come together to try to highlight that, raise awareness, raise resilience, and work closely with the private sector to try to build better protection for innovation—especially in a place like Northern California, but, really, across all five of our countries," Wray said.

Wray also spoke of the FBI’s commitment to collaborating with Five Eyes and private sector partners to safeguard emerging technologies from theft and exploitation—including the potential misuse of artificial intelligence.

“I think I speak for all of my colleagues that everybody wants to be on the right side of this,” Rice said during the discussion. “We want to do so in accordance with our values, with the way that we've innovated over the years. But there are very few people any longer who are blind to what the People’s Republic of China is doing.”

Wray said the threat posed by the CCP was unique due to its scale and scope. He likened it to a web, every strand of which became more brazen and more dangerous.

Wray went on to say that the Chinese government has a long track record of simultaneously hurling a multitude of tactics at its economic espionage targets. According to Wray, the tactics range from online hacks and human intelligence operations to business dealings that may seem benign but actually further the party’s aims.

"At the same time, we've seen aggressive uses of human intelligence now powered by professional social media, while China also hides information about its own companies and harasses and arrests foreign professionals to make it harder and harder for our businesses to detect and avoid harmful investments, joint ventures and other transactions intended to facilitate the theft of their IP and data," Wray said.

Wray also noted that China has the largest hacking program of any nation-state, and the Communist Chinese program intentionally targeted organizations with large customer bases so it can rob hundreds or thousands of victims at once. China’s new aim, Wray said, was to utilize stolen AI technology to further bolster its hacking efforts, an effort he called outrageous.

According to Wray, when choosing their targets, the Chinese doesn’t discriminate between new and veteran companies, rural or big-city settings, or a focus on a singular industrial sector when it chooses its targets for economic espionage and tech theft.

"We have found that, more often than not, the answer to the question, 'Is this a technology they're targeting?' is 'Yes,'" he said. “Over the last several years, the Bureau has witnessed an approximately 1300% uptick in the number of investigations that are somehow related to Chinese attempts to pilfer intellectual property, trade secrets, or similar intelligence,” Wray said.

Whether technology theft occurs through traditional spying or nefarious cyber means, the aftershocks of technology theft can be felt both on Wall Street and Main Street, Wray noted. The FBI director illustrated this dual impact by pointing to the example of a wind turbine company whose intellectual property was stolen by China, leading to both a market-gap plummet and mass layoffs.

Ken McCallum, the British Director General of MI5, added, “You don’t need to be working at a billion-dollar company or be the dean of a prestigious college to end up on the CCP’s radar, because, in 2023, if you’re anywhere close to the cutting edge of tech, you may not be interested in geopolitics, but geopolitics is interested in you."

The Five Eyes partners unveiled “Five Principles to Secure Innovation” - Five Eyes launches the Five Principles of Secure Innovation ( These principles, according to the FBI, were crafted by the Bureau’s U.K. partners but will be implemented across the Five Eyes coalition, including understanding how bad actors can illicitly obtain technology that doesn’t belong to them and securing one’s environment, products, partnerships, and growth.

"Those bits of guidance are co-created with people in the sectors to be pragmatic, to be workable, to avoid stifling the very openness and innovation that you're trying to protect in the first place," said MI5 Director General Ken McCallum during the summit.

The FBI, specifically, is also fighting the tide of stolen innovation through constant contact between the Bureau's 56 field offices and industry, investigations, disruption of Chinese attempts to steal intelligence, and by sharing lessons learned from private sector partnerships,

Wray also soke of risks posed by artificial intelligence.

"We worry about AI as an amplifier for all sorts of misconduct," Wray said. “I anticipate AI making existing bad actors even more dangerous.”

Wary added that AI can be used in a multitude of malicious ways. It can be used to detect vulnerabilities, craft code, perform advanced spearphishing, or even make virtual kidnappings more believable by mimicking the voices of children who’ve allegedly been taken.

Wray also expressed concern about the potential for China to use stolen personal and corporate data to train up pilfered AI technology and make its looted machine learning models even stronger.

“But it can also be exploited by would-be terrorists,” Wray warned.

"Among the ways in which AI can be misused in the terror space, we’ve seen people essentially using AI to circumvent safeguards built into some of the AI infrastructure that some of these companies have built to do searches for, you know, how to build a bomb, for example, or ways to obfuscate their searches for how to build a bomb," he said. "We’ve seen AI used to essentially amplify the distribution or dissemination of terrorist propaganda, you know, for example, putting it into other languages in a way that’s more coherent and more credible to potential supporters."

Wray noted that private sector partnerships were vital to countering this misuse of emerging technology so that companies can implement appropriate safeguards for how their innovation can be used.

He said that the FBI is "acutely attuned" to the risk faced by Silicon Valley-based AI companies.

Wray labelled the Chinese government the "number one threat to innovation," arguing it had made economic espionage a central component of its national strategy. 

"The FBI have, over the last several years, had about a 1,300 per cent increase in investigations that are, in one way or another, related to attempts to steal intellectual property or other secrets by some form of the Chinese government, or some arm of the Chinese government," Wray said. "It wasn't that long ago, when I checked, we were opening a new investigation, again, specifically focused on China and its efforts to steal intellectual property and other secrets, about every 12 hours."

Paul Davis’ Threatcon column covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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