October 15, 2019

Intelligence Chiefs Set to Outline Threat of Chinese Cyberspying

Intelligence Chiefs Set to Outline Threat of Chinese Cyberspying

WASHINGTON — Threats posed by Chinese cyberespionage — including the role of the telecommunications giant Huawei as it builds networks around the world — are expected to be among the top risks to American security as outlined by United States spy chiefs on Tuesday.

A hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to touch on recent indictments against Chinese hackers, Beijing’s intelligence agents and Huawei.

Cyberattacks and cyberespionage have been the top threats outlined by the American intelligence chiefs for several years at their annual threat hearings. The growing concerns within the United States government about the actions of Huawei and other Chinese telecommunications companies are likely to sharpen that assessment on Tuesday.

The Justice Department unveiled charges on Monday against Huawei, the Chinese company that is helping build next-generation telecommunications networks, accusing it of violating Iran sanctions and stealing intellectual property. American officials have accused Huawei of being a security threat to the United States and the rest of the West.

Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, who is set to testify at the hearing, told reporters on Monday that “the immense influence” that the Chinese government has over Huawei was a threat to American security.

“The F.B.I. does not — and will not — tolerate businesses that violate our laws, obstruct our justice and jeopardize our national security,” Mr. Wray said. “We will not stand idly by while any entity — be it a foreign power or corporation — seeks to criminally or unfairly undermine our country’s place in the world.”

Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and the vice chairman of the intelligence panel, said on Monday that there was “ample evidence” that no Chinese company was operating independent of the government in Beijing.

“It has been clear for some time that Huawei poses a threat to our national security,” said Mr. Warner, who before entering politics helped found a telecom company. “This is also a reminder that we need to take seriously the risks of doing business with companies like Huawei and allowing them access to our markets.”

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, is expected to discuss both stepped-up Chinese espionage and cyberactivity against the United States and its allies, as well as the advantage Beijing gets by having its national companies take a leading role in telecommunications networks.

The White House has, so far, taken a tough line with China, accusing it of unfair trade practices. Some officials have privately speculated that the administration could soften its line on Huawei as it reaches a trade deal with Beijing.

Chinese and American negotiators are set to talk Wednesday and Thursday in Washington. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said on Monday he expects significant progress but acknowledged there were “complicated issues” around how to enforce any deal.

Beyond China, the intelligence officials will most likely carefully navigate the discussion around where the administration has staked out positions that President Trump has publicly contradicted.

The intelligence chiefs are expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear abilities and the threat from the Islamic State. Lawmakers are also expected to press the officials on the political unrest in Venezuela, according to congressional officials.

The hearing will present Mr. Coats and Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director, with the challenge of candidly presenting their agency’s views that are often tougher than positions staked out by Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump has often found himself at odds with the assessments of his intelligence agencies. They include the effect Russia has had on American elections, North Korea’s intentions to denuclearize, the continued threat of the Islamic State and the culpability of the Saudi crown prince in the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Intelligence officials have taken stronger positions than Mr. Trump on some issues, including North Korea’s continuing nuclear activity, the strength of the Islamic State and Russia’s attempts to influence elections.

April F. Doss, a former associate general counsel at the National Security Agency, said the most recent National Intelligence Strategy made a point of highlighting the responsibility of the intelligence agencies to “speak truth to power” and to deliver intelligence objectively.

“They are going to be very mindful of reassuring the intelligence committee and the public they are committed to carrying out their work in an apolitical, nonpartisan fashion,” said Ms. Doss, now a partner at the law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr.

Ms. Haspel has made few public appearances since taking the helm of the C.I.A. last year. In her last public appearance in September, she was skeptical of the steps taken by North Korea to denuclearize. Senators are likely to press her for an updated view on Pyongyang’s nuclear program and missile work.

Lawmakers might also ask Ms. Haspel to discuss her agency’s assessment of the culpability of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.

Mr. Trump has said he will not upset relations with Saudi Arabia because the United States’ concerns over Iran and its economic ties with the kingdom are more important than concerns over the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

Privately, Ms. Haspel has taken a tough line, saying the agency believes Prince Mohammed was responsible, but she is not likely to repeat that assessment publicly, instead deferring questions to a closed session, set to follow the public testimony on Tuesday afternoon.

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