CIA chief says China ‘as big a threat to US’ as Russia

Chinese efforts to exert covert influence over the West are just as concerning as Russian subversion, the director of the CIA has said.

Mike Pompeo told the BBC that the Chinese “have a much bigger footprint” to do this than the Russians do.

As examples he cited efforts to steal US commercial information and infiltration of schools and hospitals – and this extended to Europe and the UK.

Mr Pompeo was a hardline Republican congressman before becoming CIA chief.

“Think about the scale of the two economies,” Mr Pompeo said of Russia and China.

“The Chinese have a much bigger footprint upon which to execute that mission than the Russians do.”

Earlier this year, a former CIA officer was arrested on charges of retaining classified information in a case thought to be connected to the dismantling of the agency’s spy operations in China.

In the two years before Jerry Chun Shing Lee’s arrest, some 20 informants had been killed or jailed – one of the most disastrous failures of US intelligence in recent years.

But officials did not know at the time whether to blame a mole or data hack.

The US spy chief told the BBC that countries could collectively do more to combat Chinese efforts to exert power over the West.

“We can watch very focused efforts to steal American information, to infiltrate the United States with spies – with people who are going to work on behalf of the Chinese government against America,” he said.

“We see it in our schools. We see it in our hospitals and medicals systems. We see it throughout corporate America. It’s also true in other parts of the world… including Europe and the UK.”

Russian interference has been the focus of political debate in Washington with allegations of hacking and releasing information as well as using social media to sow division.

But the CIA director’s surprising claim to me was that China has a more wide-ranging ability to exert influence and more needs to be done to confront it.

China’s reach, the CIA director says, ranges from traditional espionage (human and cyber) through allegations it has used stolen intellectual property to helps its businesses.

But it also includes the way in which it uses its economic weight to influence American companies seeking access to its market. (Courtesy BBC)