CCP Engaged in ‘Unprecedented’ Assault on US Technology, Research: Former CIA Counterintelligence Chief

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Economic espionage, trade theft, and technology transfer by the Chinese regime are on the rise in the United States, and while U.S. intelligence agencies have an opportunity to get the upper hand through clandestine activity, the Biden administration is limiting their ability to do carry this out, according to a counterintelligence analyst.

The issue of Chinese espionage was thrown in the spotlight recently when the Justice Department unveiled charges against five individuals over a series of schemes sanctioned by Chinese secret police to surveil, harass and intimidate ethnic Chinese dissidents in the United States. Among those targeted in the plots included a Congressional candidate, an American Olympic figure skater and her father, and a dissident artist.

Michigan State Sen. Jim Runestad recently told The Epoch Times that the Chinese regime is “openly recruiting spies in the United States, and our own government seems not to care.”

The Epoch Times spoke to James Olson, the former chief of CIA counterintelligence and the author of “To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence.” Like Runestad, he is gravely concerned about Chinese espionage in the United States, saying that the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) operations inside the United States have increased exponentially in the past 10 years. He also believes that U.S. authorities may have taken a step backward in stifling them.

“There’s been a frontal assault on U.S. technology, research, and databases during this time—it’s unprecedented,” Olson said.

He considers CCP espionage activity to be “a couple of magnitudes greater” than what the United States has witnessed from Russia. While Russians continue to spy on the United States, he said, “the Chinese have surpassed them with extreme aggression.”

The Department of Justice building in Washington on Jan. 2, 2020. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

‘Hungry, Eager, and Aggressive’

The Chinese regime is constantly on the lookout for people working for or leaving high-tech corporate firms, national laboratories, or various sectors of the government, according to Olson.

Yet this also represents an opportunity for the United States.

“Because [the CCP] is so hungry, eager, and aggressive in spying on the U.S., they are ripe to be had by double agent operations,” he said.

Olson is a “strong advocate” of double agent operations and considers such clandestine efforts “underutilized” across intelligence agencies today.

“[It’s] a tremendous boon for the U.S. counterintelligence to bring someone into a double agent operation,” he said, adding that a lot can be accomplished by flooding the Chinese regime with such operations. Most importantly, he said, this includes “identifying their personnel and their method of operations.”

The United States needs “to dress up some tiny, attractive little morsels for them to come after,” Olson said, suggesting that one way to do that is to take action in places where Chinese spies are currently operating. “[The Chinese remine] is making very extensive use of social media, particularly LinkedIn.”

As a result, he said it is wise to “plant people” on the online platform. “These plants can seek people to be put under the control of a U.S intelligence agency, luring them into conducting a double agent operation for our benefit,” he said.

LinkedIn profiles quite often list the careers people have had, the work they are currently involved in, or the kind of work they are seeking. “This is very attractive to the Chinese regime,” Olson said. “It’s a candy store [to them].”

While some LinkedIn users, for example, are looking for post-retirement opportunities or for new jobs, there are also U.S. business executives or government workers who already travel to China that can be dangled in front of the Chinese regime.

“When the Chinese [regime] finds an American who looks vulnerable,” Olson said, “they’ll be very inclined to contact him or her, and that’s exactly what you want in a double agent operation,”

Chinese intelligence agents, he said, use a well-worn playbook. “They’ll say they are very impressed by a resume and express to the person that they’re a good fit for some research or collaboration project in China, then try to lure them to come to China to discuss in more detail.”

Once someone is in China, their handlers maintain the pretense that it’s an innocent offer, Olson explained. “But during this time, they’ll see how far the person will go, dangling lots of money out in front of them to make it easier to make a decision,” he said. Many have fallen into this trap through the years, he added.

“Once someone is willing to reveal some of our country’s secrets or technology, [he or she] has gone too far and the Chinese are in the driver’s seat.”

It’s the job of U.S intelligence agencies to create opportunities to beat the Chinese regime at their game, yet there needs to be an uptick in double agent operations to make it happen, he said.

Matthew Olsen
Justice Department’s Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division Matthew Olsen speaks at a press conference at the Justice Department in Washington on March 16, 2022, in a still from video. (Department of Justice/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Targeting Ethnic Chinese

Earlier this year, the Justice Department canceled the Trump-era anti-espionage “China Initiative” amid criticism that authorities were engaging in racial profiling. While an internal probe found that this was not the case, the program was halted to avoid what Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen called a “harmful perception” of bias.

Former President Donald Trump later called the cancelation a “big mistake.”

Olson agreed, saying that “it was a very, very bad move because the Department of Justice and FBI were making a lot of progress in Chinese operations.”

“It was shut down under the perception that it was targeting predominantly ethnic Chinese Americans, and this was considered by the administration to be discriminatory,” he added.

But such a stance betrays a misunderstanding of how the Chinese regime operates. “They go very aggressively after Chinese Americans and play the ethnic card,” he said.

This is their target audience, Olson explained. “They are actively seeking Chinese Americans in the hopes that they have some kind of residual sympathy for the motherland, that they are linked to family members still on the mainland, or maybe just showing tremendous pride in their Chinese heritage.”

Olson said the China Initiative was in place to curtail the Chinese regime from taking advantage of these vulnerable groups in the United States, particularly in high tech companies and on university campuses.

“Unfortunately, it has been signaled to the [Chinese regime] that there is an open season on economic espionage and the theft of intellectual property to be had through Chinese Americans and others found willing to participate,” he said.

J.M. Phelps


J.M. Phelps is a writer and researcher of both Islamist and Chinese threats.

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