NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
US-funded Chinese research
Three federal government agencies provided millions of dollars directly to Chinese research centers between 2015 and 2021, according to a report by the congressional watchdog Governmental Accountability Office.
The Pentagon, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health provided $28.9 million to Chinese universities and research centers, GAO auditors found. The CDC gave about $15 million and the NIH provided $13.6 million, while the Pentagon provided $400,000 in research funds. The money was used for applied and basic research.
Additional US funds were sent to Chinese research centers through “sub-grants” to US and other companies who then provided the money to China.
CDC-funded research in China included work on “the pathogenicity of emerging, re-emerging, and novel viruses and vaccination coverage and effectiveness.” The GAO said it could not determine how many subgrants went to China because of rules that allow awardees to keep data secret.
Direct funds were not provided to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Chinese lab engaged in risky work manipulating bat coronaviruses to create strains more infectious to humans, called research on the “ gain of function”. US intelligence agencies say a lab accident at the Wuhan site remains a possible origin of the global COVID-19 pandemic first identified in the Chinese city. The Wuhan wildlife market is also suspected to be a potential source of the virus.
Wuhan University and Shanghai Pasteur Institute received $500,000 in US funds, according to the report.
China has refused to cooperate with US and international investigators looking for the origin of the pandemic. Chinese officials have even accused the United States of bringing the virus to China, a charge the US government has denied.
Last month, the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases awarded a $653,000 grant to EcoHealth Alliance for bat coronavirus research in Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. The funding was first reported by The Intercept.
EcoHealth Alliance is led by Pierre Daszakwho has worked closely on bat research with China Shi Zhengli at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Ms. Shi is known as “the batwoman of Wuhan” for her work. She denied that the coronavirus behind COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan lab, but Congress is investigating EcoHealth Alliance over its work in Wuhan.
The NIH said in a letter to Congress in October 2021 that EcoHealth Alliance had worked with the Wuhan institute to “test whether spike proteins from naturally occurring bat coronaviruses circulating in China were able to bind to the human ACE2 receptor in a mouse model”.
The letter, however, said EcoHealth’s virus work had not become the virus behind COVID.
The research was done under an NIH grant and contradicted repeated claims by Dr Anthony Fauciwho plans to step down in December as the president’s chief medical adviser, that no federal funding was used for virus work at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
According to the GAO, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention received about $5 million and Peking University received $8.8 million. About $11 million in funds have been sent to research centers in Hong Kong.
Most funding has been halted, but GAO investigators said the NIH and CDC continue to fund research institutes in China as of July 2022.
Critics of the funding said all US money should be cut off to Chinese research centers until Beijing fully discloses activities at the Wuhan site.
The report was requested by Representative Michael McCaulRepublican of Texas and chairman of the China Task Force, who said the GAO’s findings helped “pull the curtain back on U.S. taxpayer financing entities in China.”
“Unfortunately, the tens of millions of dollars in research collaboration they found are only part of the full picture,” McCaul said. “The Biden administration halted efforts by the Office of Management and Budget to track federal spending in China that began under [former President Trump] my request.
McCaul said he would continue to work in Congress to track and stop US money going to China that ultimately ends up in the coffers of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Defense information hacked
The Federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the FBI revealed this week that a sophisticated hacking operation against a defense contractor resulted in the loss of sensitive information.
According to a report on the CISA website, several “Advanced Persistent Threat” (APT) groups, the official term for hackers, gained access to a defense contractor, with some gaining long-term access unauthorized to hacked network. The groups have not been identified.
The hacking operation took place from November 2021 to January 2022 in what the report calls a defense industrial base organization.
“CISA found that multiple APT groups were likely compromising the organization’s network, and some APT actors had long-term access to the environment,” the report said.
An open source software tool called Impacket helped the hacker gain initial access and data siphoning software called CovalentStealer allowed the intruders to “steal the victim’s sensitive data”.
The report did not identify the hackers, although China and Russia are known to use the type of tactics involved in the data theft.
Director of the FBI Chris Wray said in a recent speech in London that Chinese hackers were engaging in massive cyber espionage and data exfiltration. “The Chinese government sees cyber as the channel for cheating and stealing on a large scale,” Wray said.
Mr. Wray said that in the spring of 2022, Microsoft disclosed that hackers had exploited previously unknown vulnerabilities to target Microsoft Exchange Server software.
“Chinese hackers exploited these vulnerabilities to install more than 10,000 webshells, or backdoors, on US networks, giving them permanent access to data on those systems,” he said. “This is just one example of the Chinese government finding and exploiting vulnerabilities, albeit significant ones.”
CISA’s report on the defense contractor’s hack indicates that hackers broke into the company’s Microsoft Exchange server to gain access to sensitive data.
CISA and the FBI reported in February that from January 2020 to February 2022, Russian state-sponsored cyber actors engaged in regular cyber targeting of defense contractors engaged in classified work. Defense contractors work closely with the Pentagon and intelligence agencies on a range of issues, including command, control, communications and combat systems; intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting; weapons and missile development; vehicle and aircraft design; and software development, data analysis, computers and logistics.
“Historically, Russian state-sponsored cyber actors have used common but effective tactics to gain access to target networks, including spear phishing, credential harvesting, brute force/password sputtering techniques and exploiting known vulnerabilities against low-security accounts and networks,” the report said. “These actors take advantage of simple passwords, unpatched systems, and unsuspecting employees to gain initial access before moving laterally across the network to establish persistence and exfiltrate data.”
Army spends $800 million a year on green program
The military hails the Biden administration’s policy agenda that sees climate change as a top security threat, spending up to $800 million a year in an effort to reduce the danger, according to a report released Wednesday.
The 50-page Army report says climate change “poses an immediate and serious threat to the national security of the United States and affects how and where the Army trains and operates.”
The military spends $500-800 million a year in “climate funding” for facility resilience, technology, and “operational energy.” Between 2023 and 2027, up to $5.2 billion could be spent on military climate plans.
The report says threats include extreme weather and wildfires, although the report does not specify how the weather poses a threat to the service and its mission.
“Extreme weather events, soaring average temperatures and other hazards caused by climate change are increasing the risk to military operations and forces at home and in many parts of the world,” the report said.
The Army’s plan to go green by 2027 includes developing a resilient energy and water supply, including “carbon-free electricity” and electrifying its non-tactical fleet. Sustainable land management will also be used. The service will also adopt cutting-edge green technology and reduce fuel consumption in helicopters, tanks, armored vehicles and jeeps, and a “clean supply” plan will be adopted.
The Army is planning 100% carbon-free electricity at all 137 Army installations by 2030 and will deploy a “fleet of zero-emissions non-tactical light vehicles” by 2027.
Future army building will also consider “mitigating climate change threats”.
Twenty “micro-grid” electrical power systems dedicated to the military will be implemented by 2024. A micro-grid is a local electrical system with controls to manage several sources and production loads.
The army’s operational and strategic exercises and simulations will integrate “the risks and opportunities linked to climate change”.
“The primary purpose of the military has not changed: to deploy, fight and win national wars by providing immediate, rapid and sustained ground dominance as part of the joint force,” the report said. However, the military needs “bold actions now”, to ensure the service will be ready while “setting the stage for long-term climate change adaptation and mitigation”.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.