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VIDEO: At Intelligence Committee Hearing, Rubio Raises Threat Chinese Telecommunications Firms Pose to U.S. National Security

May 15, 2018 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today to consider the nomination of William R. Evanina to be the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) raised the issue of the threat posed by Chinese telecommunications firms like ZTE.
Last night, Rubio appeared on Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle to discuss this and telecommunications threats to U.S. national security interests. Last week, Rubio delivered remarks on the Senate floor and introduced legislation to protect American workers from China’s economic aggression.  Rubio also recently wrote an op-ed on his legislation, outlining how to counter these economic tools of aggression used by Beijing.
A video of the exchange is available here. A rough transcript of the exchange is below:

Rubio: Would you ever use a ZTE phone?

Evanina: I would not, senator.

Rubio: Would you recommend anyone in any sort of position that is sensitive, whether in commerce or in government or in contracting use a ZTE phone?

Evanina: No, I would not.

Rubio: So it’s not an exaggeration to be – there’s some notion out there by some that this is a hysteria. Not just unique to ZTE – but it is a fact, is it not, that China utilizes its telecommunications companies for purposes of espionage even if those companies’ leadership may not be open to it, they don’t really have a choice but to be cooperative?

Evanina: Senator Rubio, we have been on the record in the Intelligence community and law enforcement of that fact.

Rubio: There’s an addition national security factor at play and that is “Made in China 2025” is an endeavor by the Chinese government to dominate the top fields of the 21st century, many of them in telecommunications, aerospace, biomedicine, etc. If in fact they achieve that, because they’re more competitive, because they have better ideas, because they out-innovate us, that’s one thing. But that’s not how he is pursuing it. How they are pursuing it, is it not, is they are stealing intellectual property, reverse engineering the transfer of intellectual property. There is a strategic aim on the part of the Chinese government to steal the commercial intellectual property of this country in order to advance themselves into a position of dominance in these key fields. Is that not something that is pretty clear?

Evanina: That is correct, Senator.

Rubio: And that poses a national security threat because our commercial capacity, just like our ship building capacity, is important to military hardware and aerospace, our technological capacity in the private sector. If we lose the high ground and another nation is dominant because they cheated their way into that position. Does that not pose a direct national security threat to the United States?

Evanina: It does, Senator. As I mentioned, I believe our economic security is our national security.

Rubio: I want to talk about a separate topic that I don’t believe has ever been discussed before. Certainly not today. As you know, we live in an environment where false claims even ones that are totally preposterous can easily be spread on social media and often the media, under tremendous pressure to deliver clicks on a website or ratings on their television stations through outrage, are quick to jump on it. I raise that because of the concept of something called Deep Fakes. Are you familiar with that term?

Evanina: I’m not, sir.

Rubio:  A Deep Fake is the ability to manipulate sound images or video to make it appear that a certain person did something that they didn’t do. These videos, in fact, are increasingly realistic. The quality of these fakes is rapidly increasing due to artificial intelligence machine learning algorithms are paired with facial mapping software make it easy and cheap to insert someone’s face into a video and produce a very realistic-looking video of someone saying or doing something they never said or did. This, by the way, technology is pretty widely available on the internet and people have used it already for all sorts of nefarious purposes at the individual level. I think you can only imagine what a nation-state could do with that technology, particularly to our politics.

If we could imagine for a moment, a foreign intelligence agency could use deep fakes to produce a fake video of an American politician using a racial epithet or taking a bribe or anything of that nature. They could use a fake video of a U.S. soldier massacring civilians overseas, they could use a fake video of a U.S. official admitting a secret plan to do some conspiracy theory of some kind, they could use a fake video of a prominent official discussing some sort of impending disaster that could so panic. And imagine a compelling video like this produced on the eve of an election or a few days before a major public policy decision with a culture that’s already – has already a kind of a built-in bias towards believing outrageous things, a media quick that is quick to promulgate it and spread it. And, of course, the social media where you can’t stop its spread. I believe that this is the next wave of attacks against America and western democracies, is the ability to produce fake videos that are — can only be determined to be fake after extensive analytical analysis and by then the election is over and millions of Americans have seen an image they want to believe anyway because of their preconceived bias against that individual.

You’ve never heard of that term. But I ask you – is there any work being done anywhere in the U.S. government to begin to confront the threat that could be posed – that will be posed in my view by the ability to produce realistic looking, fake video and audio that could be used to cause all sorts of chaos and in our country?

Evanina:  Thank you Senator Rubio for that question. The answer is yes. And the intelligence community and federal law enforcement is actively working to not only understand the complexities and capabilities of adversaries but what from a predictive analysis perspective we may face going forward particularly with the election this fall as well as in 2020.