Sens. Cotton, Ernst Introduce Bill to Prevent Agricultural Tech Theft by Chinese Regime

A pair of Republican senators on Wednesday introduced legislation that seeks to establish an office of intelligence within the Agriculture Department to keep U.S. agricultural innovations from falling into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and other “foreign threats.”

The bill (pdf), named the Agricultural Intelligence Measures (AIM) Act of 2021 (S.4768), was introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa). It seeks to establish an office within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by amending the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994.

The office would leverage the assets of the intelligence community to better protect U.S. agriculture from foreign threats posed by countries like China, a release states.

It would be headed by a director with “significant experience serving in the intelligence community,” the bill states.

The office would act as a “liaison” between the secretary of agriculture and the intelligence community, and would be authorized to request intelligence collection and analysis on matters related to domestic agriculture.

To understand foreign threats, the office would need to collaborate with both the intelligence community and U.S. national laboratories, the bill states.

“The Office shall facilitate sharing information on foreign activities related to agriculture, as acquired by the Department with the intelligence community,” the legislation states.

The office would focus on foreign threats such as theft of U.S. agriculture knowledge and technology, the development or implementation of biological warfare attacks, cyber or clandestine operations, and other means of “sabotaging and disrupting” United States’ agriculture.

For the fiscal year 2022, $970,000 would be authorized to be appropriated for the office, according to the bill.

“The Chinese Communist Party wants to undermine vital American industries through sabotage and intellectual property theft—U.S. agriculture is no exception. Our bill will help safeguard the food and technology that our country depends on for its prosperity and freedom,” Cotton said in a statement.

Ernst said in a statement that for too long, countries like China have “taken advantage” of Iowa farmers, stealing stealing intellectual property and engaging in other “nefarious activities.”

He added, “This bill will help protect our agriculture community in Iowa, and across the country, so they can continue their hard work of feeding and fueling the world.”

The CCP has for years sought to modernize the country’s agriculture sector. In February 2018, the Central Committee of the CCP, a group of Party elites, and the cabinet-like State Council, released a document outlining a roadmap for “rural vitalization.”

The roadmap called for “decisive” progress to be made by 2035.

In December 2019, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology said it planned to establish about 30 “high-tech industry demonstration zones” by 2025 in a bid to create agricultural “Silicon Valleys.”

A month later, in January 2020, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission jointly unveiled a six-year plan for digitizing China’s agriculture sector, such as expanding Internet coverage to 70 percent of rural areas by 2025.

The Chinese regime’s agricultural ambition is fueled in part by intellectual property theft and state-run job recruitment programs, as evidenced by recent cases uncovered by federal prosecutors.

This week, the former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe named the CCP as the “greatest adversary” of the United States that is capable of “challenging, and even supplanting the U.S. as the world’s superpower economically, militarily, and technologically.”

And on April 13, the Office of the DNI released its annual threat assessment that described the CCP’s push for global power as the leading threat to U.S. national security.

Frank Fang contributed to this report.

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