Alarm Over China Spying, Hacking

Former Counterintelligence Boss Says Losses Not Hyped

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William Evanina, the recently departed head of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, says Chinese espionage and covert hacking operations are costing America “around $500 billion a year in economic losses, just in the theft of intellectual property and trade secrets.”

The loss boils down to“$4,000 for every American family of four after taxes,” Evanina told SpyTalk podcast co-host Jeanne Meserve in an interview released on Thursday.

“So when someone says what it's not that big of a deal, I think American families would say otherwise,” said Evanina, who before his appointment to run the NCSC was a highly regarded FBI supervisory special agent.

Evanina also cited Chinese advances in cell phone devices and technology as a grave and growing national security threat.

“China currently has 55 percent ownership of the global smartphone [market], soon to have 65 percent in three years. That means they can listen and take data from every one of those phones around the globe.”

Chinese spymasters are also armed with vast amounts of personal data on 21 million U.S. government employees with security clearances at various levels, thanks to its 2015 cyber penetrations of the feds’ Office of Personnel Management. It also stole some 143 million Equifax files and personal information on some 500 million guests of the Marriott hotel chain, all of which can be used to recruit Americans and other foreigners into spying for China.

“The information stolen from Equifax, which is based in Atlanta, could reveal whether any American officials are under financial stress and thus susceptible to bribery or blackmail,” the New York Times noted last year, a judgment Evanina endorsed.

“So now you have someone who has a security clearance or maybe applied for one, then you add in their travel Marriott data, then you add in their Equifax financial data, and they might have some financial issues, right? (And) he has his top secret securityclearance, but he's got some financial hardship, he's filed for bankruptcy. Oh, and we also [know] he's got a child with special needs. He is really vulnerable.”

In Other Skullduggery

This week’s SpyTalk podcast also featured a deep dive into intelligence history, revisiting a very controversial episode from the summer of 1980, about a clandestine plot by Ronald Reagan's campaign manager, Bill Casey, later to become Reagan's CIA director, to persuade Iran to hold on to American hostages and stymie Jimmy Carter's bid for a second term. Pilitizer Prize-winning author Kai Bird has a chapter on it. In his new book, The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter.

Tune in here or wherever you get your podcasts.