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China’s Intelligence Gathering on the U.S. Using Publicly Available Information

Learn about China's increasing use of open-source intelligence to gather information on the U.S. military. Discover the advantages gained by China and the challenges faced by democracies in managing the risks associated with this type of intelligence gathering.

China’s Open-Source Intelligence Collection on the U.S.

China’s intelligence agencies are investing heavily in open-source intelligence to gain insights into the capabilities of the American military. They are particularly interested in gathering publicly available data from the Pentagon, think tanks, and private firms. This information provides China with valuable resources for strategic planning in potential conflicts with the United States.

Why China’s Open-Source Intelligence Matters

As tensions between the United States and China rise, both countries are enhancing their intelligence collection capabilities. China’s significant investments in big data management allow it to leverage publicly accessible information, giving it an advantage in gathering intelligence on the United States and its allies.

Unlike autocratic nations that keep military-related information hidden, the United States prioritizes transparency and shares a wealth of data about its military capabilities, doctrines, and plans. China takes advantage of this openness, carefully analyzing the available information to identify elements that can benefit its own military. For example, a Chinese open-source intelligence company focuses on insights from the Pentagon’s in-house think tank, the Office of Net Assessment. China also seeks to extract information released by the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

According to Zoe Haver, a threat intelligence analyst at Recorded Future, “This is done in an academic setting, but ultimately foreign governments consider this valuable intelligence.”

Military Officials Yet to Comment

At the time of the report’s release, military officials had not provided immediate comments on its findings. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that China has made significant advancements in secret intelligence-gathering capabilities over the past few decades, with a particular emphasis on open-source information gathering. Contracts issued by China’s People’s Liberation Army to private Chinese companies reveal a concerted effort to gather a wide range of open-source information, including details about the U.S. military and its defense strategies concerning Taiwan.

Zoe Haver explains, “The P.L.A. very much assumes the United States will, in some form, intervene in a Taiwan conflict, and they work very hard to prepare for that type of scenario.”

Challenges Presented by Open-Source Collection

While there are security concerns regarding the information publicly shared by the United States and its allies, completely restricting access to such data may not be the best solution. Raising awareness about China’s open-source intelligence gathering could help private-sector companies, the military, and other government agencies effectively manage the associated risks. Thorough due diligence by private companies regarding Chinese firms attempting to acquire access to their information is also encouraged.

Zoe Haver states, “At the end of the day, we don’t expect Western countries to close off their information environments. That would not even be a good thing. We value openness.”

As the strategic competition between China and the United States intensifies, it becomes crucial for democracies to navigate the challenges posed by open-source collection effectively. By finding a balance between information openness and risk management, nations can protect their interests while mitigating vulnerabilities.

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