China tried to obtain internal info and build a network of informants inside the Federal Reserve, says a new GOP Senate report

The Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve building in Washington, D.C., US, on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. The Chinese government tried to obtain sensitive internal information and build a network of influence and informants inside the Federal Reserve, according to a new report released Tuesday by Republican staff members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Chinese government tried to obtain sensitive internal information and build a network of influence and informants inside the Federal Reserve, according to a new report released Tuesday by Republican staff members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The report from the committee staff of Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the ranking member, did not conclude whether the attempts, which included the detention of a Federal Reserve employee, were successful.

Since at least 2013, the report found, China has targeted the Federal Reserve System and sought to recruit U.S.-based economists to share information in exchange for money and other benefits. Thirteen Federal Reserve employees working across eight of the Fed’s 12 locations were identified as the “P-Network” by a Federal Reserve analysis that deemed them to be of potential concern, according to the report. 

One of the members of the “P-Network” was detained four times on a 2019 trip to Shanghai, and his family was threatened, according to the report. The Fed employee’s phones, computers and contact information were hacked during his trip to China, and Chinese officials copied contact information of other Federal Reserve officials, the report said.

The Senate committee obtained the Federal Reserve’s counterintelligence analysis of the P-Network in 2020, but it said the central bank now disputes many of the findings. At least one of the employees of the network was fired for “violating certain [Federal Reserve System] rules,” according to the analysis obtained by the committee. NBC News has not reviewed the original Federal Reserve analysis.

The report also found what it called close ties between Federal Reserve employees and the People’s Bank of China, Chinese media outlets and the Chinese Thousand Talents Program, which U.S. intelligence officials say encourages economic espionage.

At least one Fed employee tried to transfer large volumes of data in an unapproved transfer to an external site after having had “continuous contacts with Chinese nationals and universities,” according to the report. It is not clear from the report whether the transfer was successful. 

The Senate committee’s staff criticized the Federal Reserve for not doing a better job policing its own employees, citing a “lack of internal counterintelligence competency at the Federal Reserve or sufficient ongoing cooperation with federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”

The Federal Reserve recently told the committee that some of the information it provided in its counterintelligence analysis reports from 2015 to 2020 can no longer be verified, according to a source familiar with the Senate investigation.

The source also said the Federal Reserve has been resistant to security measures that could mitigate some threats, like reporting foreign contacts. The FBI made 70 recommendations for better security measures, and to date the Fed has implemented only one or possibly two, the source said.

Two weeks ago, the committee got a classified briefing from the FBI that backed up a lot of information about the threat to the Fed, according to an official familiar with the investigation.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell strongly pushed back against the report in a letter to Portman, citing “strong concerns about assertions and implications in the report.” 

“We are deeply troubled by what we believe to be the report’s unfair, unsubstantiated, and unverified insinuations about particular individual staff members,” Powell said. “We are confident that Federal Reserve staff understand their obligations and are committed to maintaining both the confidentiality of sensitive information and the integrity of our workforce.”

The Chinese government, the FBI and the Federal Reserve did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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