The US Central Intelligence Agency’s future will be defined by America's ongoing technology race with China, agency director William Burns said on Wednesday during a Senate hearing.
Burns’ remarks followed the release of the Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community, which pointed to China as the biggest national security threat facing America. The report cited China’s robust use of cyber tactics to surveille Americans, its success at stealing intellectual property, and ability to acquire foreign technologies.
"I think the revolution in technology is not only the main arena for competition with the People's Republic of China,” Burns testified. “It's also the main determinant of our future as an intelligence service as well.”
The CIA director was speaking during Congress’s so-called Worldwide Threats hearing, also featuring other heads of the US intelligence community, including National Security Agency Director General Paul Nakasone, National Intelligence Director Avril Haines, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lieutenant General Scott Berrier and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray.
The intelligence directors said Beijing poses a variety of threats to US interests, including using hackers.
If Beijing feared that a major conflict with the US were imminent, it “almost certainly would consider undertaking aggressive cyber operations against US homeland critical infrastructure and military assets worldwide,” the report said. “Such a strike would be designed to deter US military action by impeding US decision making, inducing societal panic, and interfering with the deployment of US forces.”
The report pointed to China’s “expansion of technology-driven authoritarianism globally,” citing its aggressive efforts to control and manipulate the free flow of content globally. It also asserted that China is “almost certainly” capable of launching cyberattacks that could take out critical infrastructure services, including against oil and gas pipelines, and rail systems.
Mirroring how Beijing’s security apparatus collects a large amount of health data on its population, the US intelligence agencies wrote that China had gathered US health and genomic data through cyber breaches and the acquisition of US companies.
General Nakasone, the NSA director, testified China's cyber operations have grown more aggressive recently.
“With regards to China we see an increasing degree of risk taking that they've undergone with regards to stealing our intellectual property, even increasing their influence operations,” Nakasone said. “These are concerning efforts for us.”