(CN) – President Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence warned Tuesday that China is carrying out nefarious cyber activities on an “unprecedented scale” and targeting state, federal and local government entities.
In remarks at The Citadel’s annual Intelligence and Cybersecurity Conference, Coats said the Chinese government is “trying to exploit any divisions between federal and local levels on policy.”
“From its continued hacking of our defense secrets to its focus on collecting vast repositories of personal and personality-identifying information to better enable espionage activities, China exploits our transparency and open society,” he said.
While Russia and North Korea remain on the national security radar, Coats said China is far more ambitious and methodical in its pursuit of global supremacy.
“In contrast to Russia, China often executes its strategy in a more deliberate and subtle manner that tends to get less public attention,” he said.
He explained that China benefits from its relatively stable economy and its less contentious relationship with the U.S. As a result it is able to dedicate a lot of money to its cyber-warfare campaigns against U.S interests.
“China actively conducts campaigns to influence U.S. public policy, public ideas and the media. It targets U.S. and state officials in its efforts to expand its global dominance,” according to Coats.
Fellow keynote speaker David Bowdich, a deputy director of the FBI, echoed Coats concerns, stating that much like Russia has long been known to use fake news to exploit division, China appears to be following suit.
“They use hot button issues in fake news to create a public discourse with the goal of dividing our communities. Fake news isn’t new. Russia has been meddling with the Baltics for years. Their goal is to chip away our democracy.”
Bowdich stated the common belief is the purpose of spreading false information is to shake voter confidence in the electoral process and influence the outcome.
“Our electoral process is the holy grail of democracy. China and Russia view our open society which allows people to express different ideas and opinions as vulnerability and now they are using cyber techniques to exploit what they see as a weakness,” he said. “China has a 20-50 year plan with the emerging goal to become the number one global power.”
He also addressed the intelligence community’s ongoing counter-terrorism effort to combat threats both domestically and globally. He explained that in today’s online world there are no longer borders which enable terrorist organizations to target individuals using cyber methods to inspire them to self radicalize.
Bowdich said maintaining partnerships is key to combating terrorism. The 17 federal intelligence agencies work with state and local agencies as with as foreign allies, the private sector and academics to address threats that continue to increase in complexity, he said.