State Leaders Warned Their Political Careers are Targets of China Influence Campaign

A July 6 notice by the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) is just the latest in a series of recent evidence of China’s aggressive campaign to exert influence at the state and local levels. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the notice follows a February U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee briefing where the NCSC, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security advised state and local officials about the risks of Chinese influence. And in March, the AP reported that at least six state governments were hacked by the Chinese government last year.

The new NCSC notice, which warns China’s influence operations include activity that is coercive or even criminal in nature, should be of personal interest to state lawmakers as it details China’s strategy to collect personal information on state and local leaders and their associates – targeting such leaders early in their careers with the aim of using them for Chinese interests should they reach higher office. It also describes the work of the United Front Work Department, a unit of China’s ruling Communist Party charged with leading the foreign-influence efforts.

China Tech Threat has studied the security risks to states and issued a report about purchases of Chinese IT equipment. It found a dangerous disconnect between federal and state security protocols. Many states have contracts with Chinese tech manufacturers that are banned at the federal levels. However federal security requirements don’t necessarily apply to states, and states don’t necessarily have the right resources and information to take action. 

In a recent memo to state policymakers, CTT outlined key policy recommendations for states to counter China tech threats, and some states are beginning the heed the warnings. For example, Georgia recently signed into law a bill that prohibits the State of Georgia or any state agencies from contracting with any company owned or operated by the Chinese government and efforts are underway to pass similar legislation in more states.