FBI director says China is its top counterintelligence priority
China is the target of economic espionage investigations in nearly all 56 of the FBI field offices. “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell met up with FBI director Christopher Wray at the agency’s headquarters in Washington on Wednesday, where he spoke to her about how China is looking to steal secrets on everything from technology to agriculture.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY: If I look at our counterintelligence mission overall, China is our top priority in that space… We’ve had cases involving everything from turbine technology in places like upstate New York to corn seed development in Iowa.
NORAH O’DONNELL: What do you mean corn seed? They’re trying to steal our corn seed?
WRAY: Well, of course we have, I think America’s agriculture is the envy of the world and we’re very proud of it and we should be. And whenever we’re the best at something, somebody else is chasing us….It’s something that I think most Americans don’t understand.
O’DONNELL: But what are they trying to steal? What do they want?
WRAY: They’re trying to steal our trade secrets, our ideas, our innovation.
O’DONNELL: The U.S. trade representative put a figure on the theft of intellectual property and it’s up to $600 billion annually. That’s enormous.
WRAY: The thing that people need to understand is that this has an impact on everyday people. It has an impact on American businesses. It has an impact on American jobs. It has an impact on American consumers.
O’DONNELL: How so?
WRAY: Well, China’s goal is to take what it can and become essentially self-sufficient and put American businesses out of business.
O’DONNELL: Well, to replace America as the world’s economic superpower.
WRAY: I think that’s their goal and they’re pretty open about it.
O’DONNELL: It’s not only these individuals who are engaged in spying, it’s companies. You’ve raised concerns about the Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE. Why are they national security risks?
WRAY: Well, anytime you start talking about foreign companies that are beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values and our dedication to the rule of law…It enables them to conduct economic espionage. It enables them to conduct different kinds of cyberattacks. It enables them to steal information in a variety of ways.
O’DONNELL: The president intervened a few months ago to save ZTE from some of these crippling financial penalties that Congress wanted. Was the president wrong?
WRAY: I continue to be very concerned and I think the intelligence community continues to be very concerned about the threat to our telecommunications infrastructure presented by some of the kinds of companies that are beholden to foreign governments that don’t share our values… And the idea of letting the fox in the henhouse is something that I think people need to be really, really careful about before we find out that we’re gonna regret it.
O’DONNELL: Director Wray, I know you have been asked this many times… But I do want to ask it of you because the president has issued repeated attacks on the FBI, on the integrity of its work, on the people who work here at the FBI. In fact, he’s said that the reputation of the FBI is in tatters. Those attacks have to have taken their toll?
WRAY: I’ll tell you what I see. I see 37,000 men and women who get up every day trying to keep 325 million American people safe. I see people who work their tails off in that effort, who are people of character, of courage, of professionalism and diligence. And we do thousands and thousands of investigations every year. I think about the agents that I swear in at Quantico several times a year who compete like heck to be accepted into the ranks of the FBI…I could give you example after example, that’s the FBI that I see. That’s the real FBI and that’s what we’re about.
O’DONNELL: How would you describe your relationship with President Trump?
WRAY: My focus is on having a very professional relationship with the president. I think that’s what I’ve been trying to do since day one and that’s true today just as much as it was on day one.
O’DONNELL: He tweets a lot about Cabinet members and top members of his administration. But you specifically have never been the subject of one of his tweets.
WRAY: Well I’m not much of a Twitter guy, as people will tell you. And that’s not meant to criticize Twitter. Social media commentary has its place. I just find that I’ve got enough to do all day long running the FBI without getting too hung up on worrying about what’s on Twitter.
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