U.S. counterintel chief: Beijing targets Biden team with ‘malign foreign influence’ campaign

U.S. counterintel chief: Beijing targets Biden team with ‘malign foreign influence’ campaign
Joe Biden, Xi Jinping

By Chuck Ross

The U.S. government’s top counterintelligence official said Wednesday that the Chinese government is waging a “malign foreign influence” campaign directed at incoming Biden administration officials and their associates.

William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said at a cybersecurity summit that the Chinese government effort was an example of foreign influence “on steroids.”

“We’ve also seen an uptick, which was planned and we predicted, that China would now re-vector their influence campaigns to the new administration,” Evanina said at the Aspen Cyber Summit, hosted by the Aspen Institute.

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“And when I say that, that malign foreign influence, that diplomatic influence plus, or on steroids, we’re starting to see that now play across the country to not only the folks starting in the new administration, but those who are around those folks in the new administration.”

Evanina said that counterintelligence officials have seen a spike in the activity in the wake of the election last month.

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Evanina did not provide details of Beijing’s efforts to cozy up to Biden associates. He also did not suggest that any Biden associates have fallen victim to China’s influence efforts.

He said that U.S. intelligence community officials will be tasked with informing the incoming administration about Beijing’s tactics.

The Biden administration is widely expected to be softer on the Chinese government than the Trump administration has been. The South China Morning Post reported last month that the Chinese government views Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, as “someone Beijing can work with.”

President Donald Trump enforced hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese goods and has criticized the Chinese government over its response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Justice Department under Trump has also ramped up prosecutions of Chinese nationals operating as covert foreign agents at U.S. universities.

Several officials tapped to serve in the Biden administration have called for strengthening diplomatic ties with China.

Jake Sullivan, who will serve as Biden’s national security adviser, appeared in December 2017 on CGTN, a Beijing-controlled propaganda outlet, to criticize Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Steve Ricchetti, who will serve as Biden’s counselor, helped President Bill Clinton in 2000 secure support in Congress for a bill that established Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China.

Progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders criticized the bill at the time, saying it would kill American jobs. A study from Yale in 2012 said that the bill caused a “sharp drop” in U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Evanina issued a statement in August warning that the Chinese government preferred that President Trump lose the election to Biden.

“We assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection,” Evanina said in a statement on Aug. 7.

“China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter-criticism of China.”

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