WASHINGTON, DC – America is in a war that many Americans don't know we're fighting. The one waging the war – China. And experts say the communist country is angling to use stateside operatives to fight it.
In the latest case, the Department of Justice reported last week that an electrical engineer named Yi-Chi Shih has been convicted of conspiring to steal missile guidance semiconductor chips to send them to China.
Now a new group in Washington is sounding the alarm, hoping to wake people up about the seriousness of the threat from China.
"I believe communist China has been at war with the United States for at least 28 years," said Frank Gaffney.
Gaffney served in the Defense Department for President Ronald Reagan and now leads the Center for Security Policy. More recently, he's joined the Committee on the Present Danger: China. That group is working to identify and shine the light on China's tactics. Also on the committee: Former Trump advisor and Breitbart news executive Steve Bannon.
"There is no doubt in my mind that communist China under the China Communist Party represents the single most serious threat we face in the world today," Gaffney said. "The more so because many of us don't appreciate that."
He points to China's ramped up economic warfare against the US, including targeting stateside operatives, under the direction of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"The Chinese Communist Party has used everything from students it sends to the United States, to researchers working in American Laboratories, to Chinese nationals working in American companies, to cyber techniques, to old fashioned spies to try to collect information that would help them defeat us, which is their stated purpose," Gaffney said.
Bill Evanina is director of the National Counter Intelligence and Security Center. He says China is robbing us blind.
"(Xi Jinping's) end game is to be the global leader geopolitically, economically, and militarily, stop," Evanina said. "And he'll stop at nothing to be that. We're probably estimating anywhere from $300 to $500 billion a year in economic loss just in the theft of intellectual property and trade secrets, on behalf of China alone."
"So whether you're working on an assembly line, whether you're an engineer working technology, whether you're a professor working in a research lab, potentially jobs are not there for you in the long run because it's been stolen by the government of China and it's been first to market there," Evanina said.
That includes military grade technology. Experts say stolen secrets allow China to develop some weapons faster, posing a direct threat to US national security.
"And it can translate into loss of American lives, almost inevitably," Gaffney said.
That's why Gaffney hopes the Committee on the Present Danger: China can both educate the public and make Washington more aware. The US government was put on notice after a 2015 hack on the Office of Personnel Management's database, a crime for which China is highly suspected. Stealing sensitive information like that can be used to make attacks even more precise.
Experts say, for the average citizen, a key to winning this war comes back to good cyber hygiene.
"Because as Americans we have the inability to not click a link and our adversaries know that," Evanina said.
Evanina says the strange dichotomy is the US needs to participate in trade with China in order for there to be a healthy global economy. But at the same time, officials have to be vigilant knowing it's not a case of "if" China will try to cheat the system, but when.