China is developing weapons targeting brain functions, with the goal of engaging in cognitive warfare to influence government and military leaders and control entire populations, according to a new report.
“Unknown to many, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have established themselves as world leaders in the development of NeuroStrike weapons,” says the report (pdf), which was written by three intelligence analysts who co-founded the CCP BioThreats Initiative.
Currently, China does not have the defense industrial base to manufacture the types of technologies for a “NeuroStrike” program that matches “the strategic ambitions” of the CCP, the report said, but a breakthrough in research could have serious implications.
“Any breakthrough in this research would provide unprecedented tools for the CCP to forcibly establish a new world order, which has been [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping’s lifelong goal,” the report says.
The report’s revelation adds to the challenges facing the free world, as the CCP aims to reshape the current rule-based international order. In February, the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a report that China is using programs and initiatives to “promote a China-led alternative” to the current international order, one that favors “state sovereignty and political stability over individual rights.”
Scientifically speaking, NeuroStrike is defined as the engineered targeting of the brains of soldiers or civilians using non-kinetic technology, with the objectives of impairing cognition, reducing situational awareness, inflicting long-term neurological damage, and degrading normal cognitive functions. The report added that non-kinetic technology includes microwave or other directed energy.
The weapons can be deployed in handled guns or larger weapons firing electromagnetic beams, but the Chinese regime’s weaponization of neuroscience goes beyond “the scope and understanding of classical microwave weapons.”
“Their new landscape of NeuroStrike development includes using massively distributed human-computer interfaces to control entire populations as well as a range of weapons designed to cause cognitive damage,” the report explains.
The report was written by Dr. Ryan Clarke, a senior fellow at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore; Sean Lin, a former U.S. Army officer and microbiologist; and L.J. Eads, a former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer and founder of Data Abyss.
‘Instill Intense Fear’
The three authors wrote that the Chinese regime “views NeuroStrike and psychological warfare as a core component of its asymmetric warfare strategy against the United States and its allies in the Indo-Pacific.”
More specifically, they explained that NeuroStrike weapons “fit into” the communist regime’s existing “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) strategy, which is mainly about blocking U.S. forces from intervening in conflicts started by China in the Indo-Pacific, such as invading Taiwan.
“Imagine (at least partially) immunized PLA troops being inserted into a geography where a specific weaponized bacterial strain has been released prior to their entry to prepare the ground and eliminate points of resistance,” the report says. “Any remaining sources of resistance on the ground are then dealt with through CCP NeuroStrike weaponry that instill intense fear and/or other forms of cognitive incoherence resulting in inaction.”
Under the scenario, the Chinese military would be able to establish “absolute control” over a region, such as Taiwan, while “blunting any American strategic options to intervene.”
“This would effectively negate and render inert America’s overwhelming conventional superiority with very few (if any) near-term remedies,” the report adds. “This scenario is based on known existing CCP research programs and what the clear strategic aims of those programs are.”
The Government Accountability Office, in a report published in 2022, identified (A2/AD) capabilities as one of five areas that China was investing in as part of its attempt to challenge the United States. Those capabilities included long-range ballistic and cruise missiles capable to reach U.S. logistics and power projection assets in the western Pacific, including Guam, as well as air defenses that could reach over 550 km (341 miles) from its coast.
The other four areas were surface and undersea operations including ballistic missiles able to target aircraft carriers 1,500 km (932 miles) off China’s coast, cyber capabilities designed to take U.S. military systems offline, space capabilities such as anti-satellite weapons, and broad investments in artificial intelligence.
‘Strategic High Ground’
The report claimed that the 2021 U.S. sanction against China’s state-run Academy of Military Medical Sciences (AMMS)—a high-level research institute of the Chinese military—was the result of its “leading role” in NeuroStrike research.
That year, the Commerce Department imposed trade and investment restrictions on AMMS and 11 of its research institutes, for aiding the Chinese military, including “purported brain-control weaponry.”
“AMMS represents a complex network of still-overt, half-submerged and outright subterranean global linkages that continue to ‘power’ its most aggressive research and development programs,” the report says, before adding that it was necessary to keep a close watch on this institution.
In 2017, Li Peng, a medical researcher at a subsidiary of AMMS, wrote in an article that “the study into brain science was born out of a vision for how the future warfare would evolve.” He added that the study was crucial to securing a “strategic high ground” for every country.
According to a 2020 National Defense University publication, “researchers at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences are using macaques to examine techniques for brain-machine interfaces that involve the implantation of electrodes in the brain.”
China is known to be using so-called talent recruitment programs to entice foreigners and Chinese nationals in the science and tech sectors to work in China. These programs, which include the best-known “Thousand Talents Program” and “Hundred Talents Program,” often offer heavy financial incentives, as well as relocation costs, to their participants.
Wang Yizheng, who was once a faculty member at Thomas Jefferson University, is now a researcher at AMMS, an academician at the state-run Chinese Academy of Sciences, and a vice president at the Chinese Neuroscience Society. His research includes the understanding of neuronal survival mechanisms.
Mr. Wang returned to China in 2001 and was named one of the participants in the “Hundred Talents Program.”
The FBI writes on its website that China’s talent plans encourage trade secret theft and economic espionage.
“[China’s] talent plans usually involve undisclosed and illegal transfers of information, technology, or intellectual property that are one-way and detrimental to U.S. institutions,” the agency writes.
‘Escalation in the CCP’s Aggression’
The report said the PLA’s Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) could incorporate any future NeuroStrike capabilities.
“The PLASSF now operates as a type of superstructure on top of a growing and increasingly active platform of Chinese military assets (land, sea, air, cyber, and space) across multiple theatres in the Indo-Pacific while simultaneously serving as the primary deployment platform for new NeuroStrike weaponry,” the report says.
“With additional NeuroStrike capabilities that can either damage, disorient or even control perceived adversary cognition at the population level, the PLASSF would represent an exponential escalation in the CCP’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific.”
To counter China’s NeuroStrike capabilities, the report offered several recommendations for the U.S. government, including exploring policy remedies, such as ethics reviews for certain neuroscience and cognitive science studies. Doing so would allow international researchers to be “more cautious” when partnering with Chinese researchers, according to the report.
“Precision sanctions against the full CCP Civilian-Military fusion of interests related to the CCP NeuroStrike program, including specific CCP members and their holdings,” another recommendation in the report says.
Under the fusion strategy, the CCP compels its private sector to support its military’s technological advancement. According to the State Department, the strategy involves intellectual property theft in order for China to “achieve military dominance.”