FBI Director Convenes Five Eyes Summit on Protecting Innovation, Preventing Economic Espionage
Historic gathering marks first-ever joint public appearance of Five Eyes leaders
During a fireside chat moderated by former U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice and featuring intelligence chiefs from across the Five Eyes coalition, FBI Director Christopher Wray characterized the threat that the government of China poses to innovation. The discussion was held at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University on October 17, 2023, as part of the FBI's Emerging Technology and Securing Innovation Security Summit in California's Silicon Valley.
During an October 17 fireside chat with intelligence chiefs from across the Five Eyes partnership, FBI Director Christopher Wray called the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) the foremost threat to global innovation and suggested that partnerships are the best way to fight back.
"There is no greater threat to innovation than the Chinese government, and it is a measure of how seriously the five of us and our services take that threat that we have chosen to come together to try to highlight that, raise awareness, raise resilience, and work closely with the private sector to try to build better protection for innovation—especially in a place like Northern California, but, really, across all five of our countries," Wray said during the discussion, which was moderated by former U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice.
The conversation was part of the Bureau’s Emerging Technology and Securing Innovation Security Summit in California’s Silicon Valley. Wray convened the summit to shed light on the threat of innovation theft—especially by China—and to help researchers and industry players prevent their intellectual property and technology from being stolen or exploited.
The summit consisted of the fireside chat, a joint press conference with the international agency chiefs, and closed-door discussions with these leaders and partners from the private and research sectors about the threats posed by China and emerging technologies.
It also marked the first-ever public gathering of leaders from the Five Eyes—a coalition made up of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The partnership grew from the 1946 BRUSA agreement, shortly after the end of World War II, to share intelligence and coordinate security efforts. The five member countries have a long history of trust and cooperation, and they share a commitment to common values.
Throughout the summit, Wray reiterated the Bureau’s commitment to collaborating with Five Eyes and private sector partners to safeguard emerging technologies from theft and exploitation—including the potential misuse of artificial intelligence.
“I think I speak for all of my colleagues that everybody wants to be on the right side of this,” Rice said during the discussion. “We want to do so in accordance with our values, with the way that we've innovated over the years. But there are very few people any longer who are blind to what the PRC [People’s Republic of China] is doing.”
"I think I speak for all of my colleagues that everybody wants to be on the right side of this."
Dr. Condoleeza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State
An Insidious Threat
The threat posed by the CCP is unique due to its scale and scope, Wray explained during the summit. He likened it to a web, every strand of which he said "has become more brazen and more dangerous."
The Chinese government has a long track record of simultaneously hurling a multitude of tactics at its economic espionage targets, he explained. These can range from online hacks and human intelligence operations to business dealings that may seem benign but actually further the party’s aims, he noted.
"At the same time, we've seen aggressive uses of human intelligence now powered by professional social media, while China also hides information about its own companies and harasses and arrests foreign professionals to make it harder and harder for our businesses to detect and avoid harmful investments, joint ventures and other transactions intended to facilitate the theft of their IP and data," he said.
China also has the largest hacking program of any nation-state, and that program intentionally targets organizations with large customer bases so it can rob "hundreds or thousands" of victims at once.
The CCP’s new aim, he says, is to utilize stolen AI technology to further bolster its hacking efforts, an effort he called "outrageous."
In bilateral engagements ahead of the summit, Wray noted that the Chinese government’s sabotage of American innovation seems to match up with goals it previously set to advance its own economy.
"If you look at their Five-Year Plans, for example, and then you look at a lot of the cases that we've brought, there’s an eerie correlation often between information that was stolen or attempted to be stolen and things that they have publicly articulated as priority sectors," he said during one of the engagements.
And when it comes to targets, he added, the CCP doesn’t discriminate between new and veteran companies, rural or big-city settings, or a focus on a singular industrial sector when it chooses its targets for economic espionage and tech theft.
"We have found that, more often than not, the answer to the question, 'Is this a technology they're targeting?' is 'Yes,'" he said.
"We have found that, more often than not, the answer to the question, ‘Is this a technology they're targeting?' is 'Yes.'"
FBI Director Christopher Wray
MI5 Director General Ken McCallum, New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Director-General of Security and Chief Executive Andrew Hampton, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Australian Intelligence Security Organisation Director-General Mike Burgess, and Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director David Vigneault take part in a press conference as part of the FBI's Emerging Technology and Securing Innovation Security Summit in California's Silicon Valley on October 17, 2023.
Over the last several years, the Bureau has witnessed an approximately 1300% uptick in the number of investigations that are somehow related to Chinese attempts to pilfer intellectual property, trade secrets, or similar intelligence, Wray said.
Whether technology theft occurs through traditional spying or nefarious cyber means, the aftershocks of technology theft can be felt both on Wall Street and Main Street, Wray added.
He illustrated this dual impact by pointing to the example of a wind turbine company whose intellectual property was stolen by China, leading to both a market-gap plummet and mass layoffs.
You don’t need to be working at a billion-dollar company or be the dean of a prestigious college to end up on the CCP’s radar, because, as MI5 Director General Ken McCallum put it, "in 2023, if you’re anywhere close to the cutting edge of tech, you may not be interested in geopolitics, but geopolitics is interested in you."
To stem the threat of stolen ideas and innovation, the Five Eyes partners this week unveiled Five Principles to Secure Innovation to empower private sector and academic partners to protect their intellectual property and technology from becoming victims of economic espionage.
These principles—which were crafted by the Bureau’s U.K. partners, but will be implemented across the Five Eyes coalition—include understanding how bad actors can illicitly obtain technology that doesn’t belong to them and securing one’s environment, products, partnerships, and growth.
"Those bits of guidance are co-created with people in the sectors to be pragmatic, to be workable, to avoid stifling the very openness and innovation that you're trying to protect in the first place," said MI5 Director General Ken McCallum during the summit.
The FBI, specifically, is also fighting the tide of stolen innovation through constant contact between the Bureau's 56 field offices and industry, investigations, disruption of Chinese attempts to steal intelligence, and by sharing lessons learned from private sector partnerships, Wray noted ahead of the summit.
"Those bits of guidance are co-created with people in the sectors to be pragmatic, to be workable, to avoid stifling the very openness and innovation that you're trying to protect in the first place."
MI5 Director General Ken McCallum
The Exploitation of AI
During the summit and in pre-event meetings, Wray also underscored the risks posed by artificial intelligence.
"We worry about AI as an amplifier for all sorts of misconduct," he said. Wray said he anticipates AI making existing bad actors even more dangerous.
He said AI can be used in a multitude of malicious ways, he explained. It can be used to detect vulnerabilities, craft code, perform advanced spearphishing, or even make virtual kidnappings more believable by mimicking the voices of children who’ve allegedly been taken.
He also expressed concern about the potential for China to use stolen personal and corporate data to train up pilfered AI technology, and make its looted machine learning models even stronger.
But, he said, it can also be exploited by would-be terrorists.
"Among the ways in which AI can be misused in the terror space, we’ve seen people essentially using AI to circumvent safeguards built into some of the AI infrastructure that some of these companies have built to do searches for, you know, how to build a bomb, for example, or ways to obfuscate their searches for how to build a bomb," he said. "We’ve seen AI used to essentially amplify the distribution or dissemination of terrorist propaganda, you know, for example, putting it into other languages in a way that’s more coherent and more credible to potential supporters."
Wray said private sector partnerships are vital to countering this misuse of emerging technology so that companies can implement appropriate safeguards for how their innovation can be used.
He said that the FBI is "acutely attuned" to the risk faced by Silicon Valley-based AI companies.
(From left to right), Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Director-General Mike Burgess; Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director David Vigneault; FBI Director Christopher Wray; New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Director-General of Security and Chief Executive Andrew Hampton; and MI5 Director General Ken McCallum pose for a group photo ahead of the Emerging Technology and Securing Innovation Summit in California's Silicon Valley on October 16, 2023.
Throughout the Emerging Technology and Securing Innovation Security Summit, FBI Director Wray stressed that Five Eyes members were bonded by multiple factors—including, but not limited to, shared values, a dedication to upholding the rule of law, and genuine friendship.
Potentially most importantly, though, members of the coalition share an understanding of the severity of the threat that China and other would-be nation-state thieves pose to their technology and intellectual property.
"The summit is an unprecedented response to an unprecedented threat," said Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Director-General Mike Burgess. "The fact the Five Eyes security services are gathering in Silicon Valley speaks to the nature of the threat and our collective resolve to counter it."
New Zealand Security Innovation Service Director-General of Security and Chief Executive Andrew Hampton said the coalition members have a common desire to use partnerships to tackle the threat—whether that looks like their governments exchanging threat intelligence or means trading notes with private-sector innovators to increase mutual understanding and collectively brainstorm threat response.
"For us, the key thing is awareness: Having your eyes open and being able to share that best practice to manage the threat," Hampton said.
Canadian Security Intelligence Service Director David Vigneault echoed this dedication to using teamwork to protect innovation.
"What we are trying to do here ... is to take the knowledge and the awareness that we have and bring it to you in your own respective way as experts working with government to find the right frameworks so that we can enable that openness, transparency and innovation, but at the same time, do it in a way that, you know, will protect what is important for us: freedom, democracy, you know, freedom from interference and coercion, as well," he said.
MI5 Director Ken McCallum concurred.
"The stakes are now incredibly high on emerging technologies; states which lead the way in areas like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and synthetic biology will have the power to shape all our futures," he said. "We all need to be aware, and respond, before it’s too late."
The outlook for this kind of teamwork seems to be bright. During pre-summit meetings, Wray said he’s observed that businesses are more open than ever to learning how to immunize themselves against the threat of innovation theft. Whereas private sector players once needed to be sold on the existence of a threat in the first place, he explained, they’re now hungry to learn how they and the FBI can fight back together.
"We're arming the private sector with information that enables them to take better steps to protect themselves, and so, in that sense, we're tapping into an alignment of interests," Wray said.
From there, he noted, businesses can decide whether or not to act on that intelligence. In any case, the shared information can help companies stop intellectual property theft and strengthen their cyber defenses.
"The summit is an unprecedented response to an unprecedented threat."
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Director-General Mike Burgess
In their first-ever joint public appearance, leaders of the Five Eyes intelligence partnership—the United States, the United…