Q&A With General Spider Marks: ‘24 Momentum In State Capitols To Ban Risky China Tech

As February draws to a close, many state legislatures are well into their sessions and some, like Utah, quickly nearing the end of their business for this year. China Tech Threat (CTT) is encouraged by the leadership many new states have demonstrated already in 2024 by advancing bills to prohibit state purchase of risky technology from companies owned or operated by the Chinese government. We caught up with CTT Principal General James “Spider” Marks for his take on the state progress to date and the vulnerabilities that linger. 

Q: 2023 ended strong with four new states passing laws bringing their total number of states that passed laws or executive orders to nine. What status update can you share at this point in 2024?

Nearly a dozen states are currently debating or advancing bills to prohibit the purchase of risky technology from companies owned or operated by the Chinese government: Arizona, Utah, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Maine, Nebraska, Kansas and Maryland. CTT has had the opportunity to participate in hearings in a number of these states. During these hearings, we not only spoke about the need for laws to stop these risky tech purchases, but also helped provide lawmakers with a roadmap to get it done. We understand that this is a complex issue, but a key part of our message is that state oversight over how taxpayer dollars are spent makes them uniquely positioned to stop it. Prohibiting new purchases is the first step to “stop the bleeding” before then considering how to address dangerous technology already plugged into state networks.

Q: You kicked off the 2024 legislative session delivering expert testimony before the Arizona Senate Military Affairs, Public Safety, and Border Security (MAPS) Committee.  What did that hearing signify for the broader legislative landscape?

A: The fact that lawmakers in Arizona started the year by holding a comprehensive, bipartisan hearing on the various threats China poses to Arizona’s security was an early indicator that more states are starting to see the need to take action now. CTT has worked to be a resource for state lawmakers confronting these threats posed by this technology because we understand that national security doesn’t typically fall under their purview, but the threats now demand that they do. Our work has been fortified by the commitment, diligence and policy focus state lawmakers are putting into this issue with so many other competing priorities they face.

Q: Tell us about China Tech Threat’s new research that shows many states, including those currently considering bills, are still buying millions worth of this dangerous technology from Lenovo and Lexmark.

Even though awareness is building and state policy momentum continues to grow, there is still much more work and education to be done. When CTT released our May 2023 report, 46 states had spent a total of more than $285 million since 2015 on restricted Lexmark and Lenovo technology with some states spending as much as $47 million. (Read the briefing paper here.) In January 2024, we returned to this research in select states and discovered that states currently debating bills to stop the dollars flowing to Chinese companies have collectively spent close to $22 million since our last report. Spending includes Chinese technology for agencies performing work with sensitive personal information, such as the Arizona Board of Fingerprinting, Nebraska State Police, Utah schools, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Q: Is one of the reasons more states are successfully advancing these bills due to the fact that it is catching on as a bipartisan issue?

A: Definitely. We see at the federal level how the China threat is a rare case of bipartisanship, and this is happening with these China tech prohibition bills as well. Lawmakers and their constituents recognize that spending taxpayer dollars on dangerous technology leads to not only compromising sensitive data and security, but is also going to fund the CCP, simply needs to stop. We are seeing bills move with broad bipartisan support, like recently in Utah where Sen. Pierucci’s bill passed the House with unanimous support and last spring South Dakota bill SB 189 received only 2 votes against it in the Senate. In Maine, the State and Local Government Committee voted to advance Senator Keim’s bill in January. These are just a few examples of both sides coming together.

Q: With some many confrontations taking place on the world stage right now, why are these state laws such an important battle to fight and win?

The disturbing fact is, no other foreign adversary controls large tech companies that hold such significant market share to support its global ambitions. Just earlier this month, amidst fresh warnings to Congress by FBI Director Chris Wray about CCP hackers targeting American infrastructure and preparing to “wreak havoc and cause real-world harm to American citizens and communities,” the Washington Post reported on China’s strategy of targeting state and local officials to get around tensions in Washington. This follows earlier warnings to state lawmakers like a 2022 notice by the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center warning of China’s aggressive campaign to exert influence at the state and local levels. Fortunately, states have other active partners also providing information and resources to help them pass sound, effective and responsible policies. Organizations like State Armor and the Heritage Foundation have a deep bench of expertise and are committed to helping states protect their date and security to collectively strengthen our national security.