A top U.S. law enforcement official on Thursday unveiled a new “disruptive technology strike force” tasked with safeguarding American technology from foreign adversaries and other national security threats.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, the No. 2 U.S. Justice Department official, made the announcement at a speech in London at Chatham House. The initiative, Monaco said, will be a joint effort between her department and the U.S. Commerce Department, with a goal of blocking adversaries from “trying to siphon our best technology.”
Monaco also addressed concerns about Chinese-owned video sharing app TikTok.
The U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a powerful national security body, in 2020 ordered Chinese company ByteDance to divest TikTok because of fears that user data could be passed on to China’s government. The divestment has not taken place.
The committee and TikTok have been in talks for more than two years aiming to reach a national security agreement.
“I will note I don’t use TikTok, and I would not advise anybody to do so because of these concerns. The bottom line is China has been quite clear that they are trying to mold and put forward the use and norms around technologies that advance their privileges, their interests,” Monaco said.
The Justice Department in recent years has increasingly focused its efforts on bringing criminal cases to protect corporate intellectual property, U.S. supply chains and private data about Americans from foreign adversaries, either through cyberattacks, theft or sanctions evasion.
U.S. law enforcement officials have said that China by far remains the biggest threat to America’s technological innovation and economic security, a view that Monaco reiterated on Thursday.
“China’s doctrine of ‘civil-military fusion’ means that any advance by a Chinese company with military application must be shared with the state,” Monaco said. “So if a company operating in China collects your data, it is a good bet that the Chinese government is accessing it.”
Under former President Donald Trump’s administration, the Justice Department created a China initiative tasked with combating Chinese espionage and intellectual property theft.
President Joe Biden’s Justice Department later scrapped the name and re-focused the initiative amid criticism it was fueling racism by targeting professors at U.S. universities over whether they disclosed financial ties to China.
The department did not back away from continuing to pursue national security cases involving China and its alleged efforts to steal intellectual property or other American data.
The Commerce Department last year imposed new export controls on advanced computing and semiconductor components in a maneuver designed to prevent China from acquiring certain chips.
Monaco said on Thursday that the United States “must also pay attention to how our adversaries can use private investments in their companies to develop the most sensitive technologies, to fuel their drive for a military and national security edge.”
She noted that the Biden administration is “exploring how to monitor the flow of private capital in critical sectors” to ensure it “doesn’t provide our adversaries with a national security advantage.”
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers last year called on Biden to issue an executive order to boost oversight of investments by U.S. companies and individuals in China and other countries.