Washington (AFP) - The FBI is investigating Chinese economic espionage in nearly all of its 56 field offices around the country, underscoring the depth of the threat to US business, Director Christopher Wray told Congress Tuesday.
"China writ large is the most significant counterintelligence threat we face," Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee in a hearing on foreign threats.
"We have economic espionage investigations, for example -- that's just one piece of it -- in virtually every one of our 56 field offices," he said.
"The number of those has probably doubled over the last three or four years, and not all of them, but almost all of them lead back to China."
Wray spoke one day after the Justice Department indicted Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei for a "company-wide effort" to steal trade secrets from T-Mobile USA.
The indictment said Huawei offered employees bonuses "based on the value of information they stole from other companies around the world," which they were to send to Huawei via an encrypted email address.
US intelligence chiefs in the hearing said China was the most potent threat politically, militarily and economically to the United States, and that the threat was growing.
The intelligence community's annual Worldwide Threat Assessment report released Tuesday alleges that Beijing will target important US technology sectors for espionage and theft whenever it cannot easily develop an important technology itself.
"We are also concerned about the potential for Chinese intelligence and security services to use Chinese information technology firms as routine and systemic espionage platforms against the United States and allies," it said.
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Robert Ashley said at the hearing that the Beijing leadership and Chinese Communist party have made it hard for Chinese businessmen to be pure businessmen and avoid suspicion.
"Huawei need to make a decision about the direction that they want to take with regards to how they support the Chinese government or as an independent business," he said.
"The challenge... is that decision does not lie with Huawei. It lies with the CCP, it lies with Xi Jinping."