FBI Director Christopher Wray issued a dire warning about China's growing influence during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday. He said there were a variety of ways China was implementing a plan to replace the US as the foremost global power, including by infiltrating academia.
Recent reports have suggested that while China's on-campus 'Confucius Institutes' are ostensibly language-learning centers, they often serve as vehicles for Chinese propaganda at universities around the world, including the US.
Intelligence experts have also cited Chinese cybersecurity threats as a major concern in 2018.
Wray on Tuesday reiterated a commonly held view among US intelligence officials that China is seeking to become a global superpower through unconventional means — but he framed it as both a governmental and a societal threat to the US.
Wray pointed to China's use of unconventional intelligence sources as an example of its reach.
He said "collectors" — what the intelligence community calls people who collect intelligence on behalf of agencies or governments — had infiltrated US universities.
"I think in this setting, I would just say that the use of non-traditional collectors — especially in the academic setting, whether it's professors, scientists, students — we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country," Wray said.
"They're exploiting the very open research-and-development environment that we have, which we all revere, but they're taking advantage of it," Wray said, adding that there is a "naiveté" among academics about the risks posed by foreign nationals at US universities.