Before he became involved in Democratic Party politics in Virginia and before being elected governor and then U.S. senator, Mark Warner was an early investor in the technology and telecommunications sectors. As a founder of Nextel, now part of Sprint, he made a fortune in the early days of the cellphone industry.
The vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he’s as versed as any member of Congress in the technology sector and is intimately aware of its importance to the U.S. economy and the nation’s national security.
Which makes his series of classified briefings he’s held in the last several weeks with U.S. companies, academic institutions and venture capital firms about the dangers of working too closely with China all the more stunning and worthy of public note. The series of meetings, which have taken place in Silicon Valley and in Washington and began in October, were first reported by the Financial Times of London.
Accompanying Warner have been Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and top officials from other national security agencies. According to the Financial Times, several executives said they’d been shown highly classified material in the briefings, an unusual step underscoring the importance placed on the discussions.
Two areas of concern stand out for Warner: the threat of cyber attacks and the theft of intellectual property. All three sectors Warner and the intelligence chiefs have been meeting with offer vectors of attack for China: universities and their cutting edge research; venture capital firms with insider information on new technologies soon to break onto the scene; and companies that have deployed the latest technology.
The threat from China is not just to U.S. economic competitiveness, security and influence — it’s to American values right here at home. The Chinese government sponsors almost 100 Confucius Institutes on college and university campuses across the country. Over the years, critics have said they not only censor academic speech that Beijing disagrees with but also surveil Chinese students and could serve as conduits for industrial espionage. Three institutions in Virginia host a Confucius Institute: the College of William & Mary, George Mason University and Old Dominion University. Since last year, though, more colleges are closing their institutes out of just such fears.
Moscow is using America’s technology to combat our democracy head on while Beijing is working to infiltrate America through seemingly innocuous academic partnerships and business deals. It’s heartening that Warner is leading this bipartisan effort to sound the alarm about the threat China poses to the U.S.