ODNI says China obtained data from ‘both legal and illegal means’
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is warning of China’s collection of health care data and DNA of Americans, warning that the efforts pose “serious risks” to the privacy of Americans and to U.S. economic and national security.
The National Counterintelligence and Security Center within ODNI this week warned that the People’s Republic of China has collected large health care data sets from the U.S. and nations around the globe “through both legal and illegal means.”
The NCSC warned that China is prioritizing the collection of health care data, including genomic data — which it says the country views as a “strategic commodity” to be collected and used for its economic and national security priorities.
NCSC defined genomic data as “a broad term referring to your entire genetic sequence—all your DNA.”
The collection efforts come as part of China’s efforts to advance its artificial intelligence and precision medicine industries.
In 2016, the People’s Republic of China announced a $9 billion, 15-year project to collect, analyze and sequence genomic data to become a global leader in precision medicine — which ODNI describes as a process designed to provide tailored treatments based on the genetic makeup and environment and lifestyle of individual patients.
During the coronavirus pandemic, intelligence officials pointed to China’s efforts to market its COVID-19 testing kits around the world as well as laboratories to support its COVID-19 testing. NCSC said that by August, China’s leading genomics company, Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), said it had sold test kits to 180 countries and established labs in 18 countries during the pandemic.
NCSC pointed to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s findings, which stated that the labs had been providing Chinese researchers with access to health care from around the world.
Intelligence officials told Fox News that BGI made “aggressive efforts” to market their COVID testing and lab services in states across America in the early days of the pandemic, despite concerns from NCSC, the FBI and others in the intelligence community about the collection of health and genetic data from Americans.
NCSC did say, however, that there “is no evidence” Chinese companies “have been able to establish such COVID-19 labs in the U.S.”
NCSC also warned that China’s acquisition of U.S. health care data helps to fuel its AI and precision medicine industries, estimating it puts America’s “roughly $100 billion biotech industry at a disadvantage.”
“Over time, this dynamic could allow China to outpace U.S. biotech firms with important new drugs and health treatments and potentially displace American firms as global biotech leaders,” NCSC wrote. “Although new medicines coming out of China could benefit U.S. patients, America could be left more dependent on Chinese innovation and drug development for its cures, leading to a transfer of wealth, co-opting of new businesses and greater job opportunities in China.”
During an exclusive interview with Fox News last month, former NCSC Director Bill Evanina issued a similar warning about China’s “big data collection.”
“Most Americans are unaware that the Chinese government has made collection of health care data a national priority for them. They are collecting the health and genomic data of Americans on a mass scale,” Evanina said, noting that while some of the data has been stolen through cyberattacks, “most of it has been obtained legally through investments or partnerships with U.S. institutions that outsource their genetic sequencing to China.”
“China can exploit this data for a variety of nefarious purposes, and already has a significant record of exploiting DNA for social control and surveillance of their Uyghur populations at home,” he explained.
But Evanina warned that China’s collection of U.S. genomic data is helping to fuel its precision medicine and artificial intelligence industries, which he said “poses a long-term threat to the United States’ biotech industry and medicine around the world at large.”
“Precision medicine, in my view, is a new global industrial revolution, and if we are not strategic about how we approach this, we may lose out in the long run,” Evanina said.
With regard to DNA and biotech, Evanina said that China, when it uses precision medicine, “can target you if you are predisposed to have particular illnesses or disease, and will be able to know that through your DNA.”
“They’ll be able to target you for medicines for your illnesses or ailments that they believe they can help cure, and I believe that is going to be a situation in the future where it could hurt, and eventually eliminate the need for U.S.-based industries, pharmaceuticals, doctors and hospitals,” he said.
Meanwhile, President Biden’s newly confirmed director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, during her confirmation hearing last month, said one of her primary focuses would be to provide intelligence support efforts to “out-compete China.”
“We should provide the necessary intelligence to support long-term bipartisan efforts to out-compete China — gaining and sharing insight into China’s intensions and capabilities, while also supporting more immediate efforts to counter Beijing’s unfair, illegal, aggressive and coercive actions, as well as its human rights violations, wherever we can,” Haines testified.
Author: Brooke Singman