US intelligence chiefs have held a series of classified briefings with American companies and other groups to warn them of the dangers of doing business in China, a further sign of Washington’s increasingly hawkish stance towards trade between the two countries.
Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, has given several briefings alongside colleagues from the FBI and the National Counterintelligence and Security Center to large technology companies, venture capitalists and educational institutions.
According to those who have attended, the sessions are designed to highlight the risks of trade with China — especially the threat of cyber attacks and intellectual property theft.
The briefings have been held across the country, including in Silicon Valley and Washington, and have focused particularly on the technology industry. Those involved in organising them told the Financial Times that executives had been shown classified material as part of this, something they said was a highly unusual step.
The meetings have been facilitated by a group of senators from both major parties, including Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chair of the Senate intelligence committee, and Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida.
Mr Warner said: “We have to increase awareness among US companies, investors, and universities about the tactics China is now using to undermine US competitiveness, security, and influence.
The briefings, which began in October, have been held against a backdrop of worsening trade relations between the two countries and an increasingly hawkish stance towards China from the US law enforcement and intelligence communities.
The Trump administration on Wednesday announced that Huawei, the Chinese telecoms equipment maker, would face restrictions on its imports from the US and could be banned from selling its products there — a move taken because of concerns that Huawei could help China engage in electronic espionage.
But the meetings held by senators and intelligence chiefs show how Republicans and Democrats in Congress are also taking an increasingly combative approach to China.
“The Chinese government and Communist party pose the greatest long-term threat to US economic and national security,” said Mr Rubio. “It’s important that US companies, universities, and trade organisations understand fully that threat.”
Other senators who have hosted briefings include the Republican senators Richard Burr, Susan Collins and John Cornyn.
“While many folks in Washington understand the gravity of the threat, that’s not true across the country”, said Mr Warner. “For that reason, I have been convening meetings between the intelligence community and outside stakeholders in business and academia to ensure they have the full threat picture and hopefully, make different decisions about Chinese partnerships.”
Other intelligence staff who have attended, according to one of those who helped plan the briefings, are William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Sue Gordon, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, and Bill Priestap, who was at the time the director of the FBI counterintellience division.
Linda Moore, the chief executive of Technet, a group of technology company executives that has hosted several briefings, said much of the time was spent discussing how government agencies and companies could collaborate more on combating cyber attacks as they are happening.
Ms Moore said: “It is a great thing that the intelligence community and law enforcement is interacting and engaging with the private sector in this way — executives say they have found it very useful.”