In what looks to be an attempt to exploit a pandemic that began within its borders, the Communist Chinese government is reportedly out to collect DNA samples from Americans.
That’s according to U.S. intelligence officials who issued warnings about the Chinese company BGI Group, 60 Minutes reported. The largest biotech firm in the world, the company reportedly offered to build COVID testing labs in at least six states, including New York and California.
The now-former counterintelligence chief, William Evanina, was so concerned that he authorized a rare public warning that declared: “Foreign powers can collect, store and exploit biometric information from COVID tests.”
Evanina, who resigned last week as the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, believes the Chinese are trying to collect Americans’ DNA to win a race to control the world’s biodata.
(Source: CBS 60 Minutes)
CBS‘ 60 Minutes will air a two-part report on Sunday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m., featuring Evanina, who said BGI Group has close ties to China’s military and ruling Communist Party.
“This shows the nefarious mindset of the Communist Party of China, to take advantage of a worldwide crisis like COVID,” he told the newsmagazine. “We put out an advisory to not only every American, but to hospitals, associations, and clinics. Knowing that BGI is a Chinese company, do we understand where that data’s going?”
The good news is that none of the states involved accepted the offer from BGI Group.
But potential consequences remain — more from 60 Minutes:
One worry for Evanina and others is control over biodata that can lead to the complete control over health care: if a person’s current or future medical condition is known through DNA and other data, the entity that knows it can gain a monopoly over the therapy or drugs to treat them. “From a long-term existential cost to our nation, do we want to do that? Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our health care services?” asks Evanina. “That’s what’s happening.”
This is already happening on a smaller scale; the U.S. is almost entirely dependent on China to furnish the PPE it uses to combat the pandemic. The future could look a lot worse says Edward You, a former biochemist turned supervisory special agent in the FBI. “What happens if we realize that all of our future drugs, our future vaccines… are all completely dependent upon a foreign source? If we don’t wake up, we’ll realize one day we’ve just become health care crack addicts and someone like China has become our pusher,” he tells Wertheim.
Another potential avenue for a foreign power to obtain the DNA of Americans is using the services of genealogy companies to learn their ancestry, the report noted.
Evanina said genealogy companies can have partnerships with biotech firms to share that data, in the interest of developing treatments — data that is more important than people realize.
“It’s your past and your future as well as your children’s future,” he explained. “It’s very risky and I think the unknown is probably the riskiest part.”
Anne Wojcicki, CEO of 23&Me, told 60 Minutes that the DNA they collect is useful in developing drugs.
“What we have done is we have empowered individuals with this opportunity to come together, to crowdsource research,” Wojcicki said. “And I absolutely stand behind: we are going to develop drugs. So that everyone is actually benefiting from the human genome. So absolutely the data is valuable.”
At the same time, Wojcicki agrees with intelligence officials about being leery of China.
“We need to be super vigilant about China, you know, with any kind of data. But the issue is more that China is putting billions of dollars into their own genetic programs and we are not,” she said.
The U.S. military recently issued a warning to all service members instructing them not to use direct-to-consumer genealogy tests, CBS reported.
“These genetic tests are largely unregulated and could expose personal and genetic information… Outside parties are exploiting the use of genetic data,” the Department of Defense said.
The National Counterintelligence and Security Center urged social media users to watch the upcoming interview of Evanina “discussing China’s collection of genomic and other healthcare data from America and the risks it poses to our privacy as well as economic and national security.”