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FBI Director Christopher Wray attends a House Committee on the Judiciary oversight hearing, July 12, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press

The security chiefs of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance held their first ever joint public meeting Tuesday to warn against China’s theft of cutting‐edge technologies from democratic countries.

FBI Director Christopher Wray called together the security directors from Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand and key business leaders, including Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada, to map out strategies to prevent China from stealing Western trade and innovation secrets.

“There is no greater threat to innovation than the Chinese government and it is a measure of how seriously the five of us in our services take that threat,” he told a gathering at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute hosted by former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. “The Chinese government is absolutely the biggest threat we face.”

Mr. Wray said China is running one of the largest hacking operations in the world but also using students, joint ventures, start-ups and employees placed inside Western companies to acquire crucial information on artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biometrics, robotics and other leading technologies.

“The FBI have, over the last several years, had about a 1,300-per-cent increase in investigations that are, in one way or another, related to attempts to steal intellectual property or other secrets by some form of the Chinese government, or some arm of the Chinese government,” he said.

Mike Burgess, director-general of Australia’s intelligence service, said all nations spy and steal secrets but the Chinese government’s behaviour goes well beyond traditional espionage.

“We have the Chinese government engaged in the most sustained scale and sophisticated theft of intellectual property and acquisition of expertise that is unprecedented in human history,” he said. “That threat needs to be drawn out, awareness raised and together we can all do something about it.”

David Vigneault, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said Western companies and universities need to be “clear-eyed” about how China is stealing technology and also trying to attract expertise and raw research from universities.

“We want to make sure that our universities and research centres continue to operate, attract the talent everywhere and anywhere around the world, including from China. But you also need to understand the rules of the game have changed. The Chinese Communist Party has passed legislation to force any person of Chinese origin anywhere in the world to support their intelligence services,” he said. “It means they have a way to coerce people here in our countries to essentially tell them, to give them the secrets.”

The Globe and Mail reported in January that 50 Canadian universities were involved in extensive research since 2005 with China’s main military university, including research on topics such as quantum cryptography, photonics and space science. Some of the Chinese military scientists who were involved were experts in missile performance and guidance systems, mobile robotics and automated surveillance.

Soon after the Globe report, Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne issued an order to all federal granting councils that Ottawa would no longer fund research with Chinese military and state security institutions and urged the provinces and universities to adopt similar national security measures.

Mr. Vigneault also issued a warning about Russia and how it is trying to go through the back door to obtain Western technology, now denied as a result of sanctions for Moscow’s brutal invasion of Ukraine.

He said CSIS recently discovered that a Canadian firm supplied technology for Russian drones although he said the company owner did not know that it was being used for that purpose.

“We had a very difficult discussion with a business leader in Canada, who we essentially were able to show that we had discovered, working with our security partners, that a component of high tech guidance was being used in Russian drones to kill Ukrainians,” he said.

Mr. Vigneault did not name the company. Reuters reported in March that the U.S. sanctioned two Canadian companies from Montreal – Cpunto Inc. and Electronic Network Inc. – for “acting contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States” for alleged support of Russia’s war effort against Ukraine.

Ken McCallum, director-general of M15, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, told the Guardian before he attended the Five Eyes summit that 20,000 Britons have been approached by Beijing on LinkedIn in the hope of obtaining trade secrets. He said an estimated 10,000 British businesses were at risk from China.

Mr. Hyder, the head of the Business Council of Canada which represents Canada’s largest corporations, said the meeting with the security chiefs was an eye opener and Canadian firms are “ready to step up” to safeguard the country’s science and technology.

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