US Intelligence Workforce Is ‘Vastly Outnumbered’ by China’s: FBI Director

The FBI has thousands of open Chinese intelligence investigations.
US Intelligence Workforce Is ‘Vastly Outnumbered’ by China’s: FBI Director
FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing about oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 12, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Frank Fang

The United States is facing a spy threat from communist China that is greater in scope than the Soviets during the Cold War, according to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Furthermore, compared to China, the United States employs a smaller group of intelligence agents, Mr. Wray told The New York Times in an interview published on Sept. 17.

“The fact is that compared to the P.R.C., we’re vastly outnumbered on the ground, but it’s on us to defend the American people here at home,” Mr. Wray said, referring to China’s official name, the People’s Republica of China. “I view this as the challenge of our generation.”

This is not the first time Mr. Wray has raised the issue. In April, Mr. Wray told House lawmakers that Chinese hackers outnumbered bureau agents by “at least 50 to 1.” He added that China’s hacking program “is bigger than that of every nation combined.”
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is waging a covert war on U.S. soil, and the FBI has been on the frontline confronting the regime’s espionage operations. In recent months, two individuals were arrested after being accused of operating a secret police station in New York City, and two Navy sailors were arrested for allegedly passing on sensitive military information to Chinese intelligence officers.

“They’re going after everything,” Mr. Wray said. “What makes the P.R.C. intelligence apparatus so pernicious is the way it uses every means at its disposal against us all at once, blending cyber, human intelligence, corporate transactions and investments to achieve its strategic goals.”

Experts have warned that the CCP’s strategic goals ultimately lead to one thing: to displace the United States as the world’s leading power. Last year, the Pentagon warned in a report that China intends to defeat the United States in a war by overwhelming its electronic, information, and logistical systems.

CCP Threat

The FBI has thousands of open Chinese intelligence investigations, Mr. Wray told the NY Times, and each of its 56 field offices has active cases. These investigations include efforts by Chinese spies to recruit informants, steal information, hack into systems, and harass Chinese dissidents.
The CCP is committing acts of transnational repression around the world, mainly with the objective of silencing its critics abroad. One recent example involved efforts by the regime to intimidate a U.S. Olympic figure skater and her family, who had spoken out against Beijing’s human rights abuses on social media.
The FBI has placed targeted ads asking people to come forward if the CCP has victimized them.
“China’s government doesn’t only repress people within its own borders,” FBI Boston wrote in an X post on Sept. 15, asking people to call the FBI if they become the CCP’s targets. “It also targets, threatens, and harasses U.S.-based Tibetans and Uyghurs, Falun Gong members, Taiwan and Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates, and anyone who questions the legitimacy or authority of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Earlier this month, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. warned airmen in a memo that the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is attempting to “exploit your knowledge and skill to fill gaps in their military capability.”
“Foreign companies are targeting and recruiting U.S. and NATO-trained military talent across specialties and career fields to train the PLA abroad to fill gaps in their military capabilities,” Gen. Brown wrote. “By essentially training the trainer, many of those who accept contracts with these foreign companies are eroding our national security, putting the very safety of their fellow service members and the country at risk, and may be violating the law.”

‘Unilateral Disarmament’

Speaking at a "Spy Chat" event at the International Spy Museum on Sept. 7, Mr. Wray discussed the importance of renewing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

“I’ve been very vocal since early in my tenure that there is no country—underline no country—that represents a broader, more severe counterintelligence threat to the United States than the People’s Republic of China,” Mr. Wray said.

“And limiting or hobbling or losing our access to 702 would, in my view, be a form of unilateral disarmament in the face of the Chinese Communist Party.”

FISA Section 702 allows for intelligence gathering on foreign agents operating outside the United States. It is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2023, and must be reauthorized by Congress every five years.

The Chinese regime is trying to steal U.S. innovation in artificial intelligence, Mr. Wray warned, explaining that the United States leads the world in artificial intelligence (AI) development and about 18 of the 20 most successful AI companies in the world are American.

“Needless to say, that puts a gigantic bullseye on them from the Chinese government,” he added.

Gregory Allen, director of the Wadhwani Center for AI and Advanced Technologies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, warned lawmakers in May that U.S. leadership in military AI “is not all guaranteed.”

“While the United States has important advantages, China may be able to quickly take the lead in government and military adoption of AI capabilities. This is an outcome that the United States should seek to prevent,” Mr. Allen stated.

In July, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced the Closing Loopholes for the Overseas Use and Development of Artificial Intelligence (CLOUD AI) Act. According to a press release announcing the legislation, China has been exploiting the Department of Commerce’s export control regime by “remotely accessing American technology online to continue developing their artificial intelligence tools and models.”

If enacted, the legislation would “close this loophole” and stop China from “using American innovation to accelerate their own artificial intelligence.”

Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.