If you are a spy or a soldier, and you’re thinking of taking one of those home-based genetic evaluations for health or genealogical motives through 23andMe, Ancestry.com and many others, you might want to reconsider it.
The big omnibus spending package that Congress passed early this week — that President Donald Trump has criticized, demanding changes from Congress — contained language that would ask the Government Accountability Office to look in and mitigate risks posed to members of the intelligence community and also to sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines who may use direct-to-consumer genetic testing by firms who may have ties to China or by the sale of such data to companies owned by Chinese interests.
The financial 2021 intelligence authority measure, which is part of this omnibus spending package, would ask the GAO to examine consumer genetic evaluations as part of a heightened focus on a range of threats posed by China.
Lawmakers need the GAO also to analyze”how the government of the People’s Republic of China may be using data provided by personnel of the intelligence community and the [Defense] Department through direct-to-consumer genetic tests; and how ubiquitous technical surveillance may amplify those risks.”
Companies such as 23andMe, AncestrybyDNA, Genebase and Full Genomes, for example, are among dozens that provide consumer genetic testing to detect susceptibility to possible ailments and to establish genealogies. It’s not clear which American firms, if any, have ties to Beijing or have marketed data to China.
The request to examine safety risks posed by genetic testing companies signals a potential new area of concern that extends beyond the traditional espionage, cybersecurity and supply chain risks typically associated with Beijing’s global reach.
Lawmakers seem to be worried that U.S. officials working for intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, acting in their own abilities, may be providing their own genetic information to personal testing companies which could end up in Chinese hands, providing Beijing highly sensitive information which it could combine with additional information it already has on them to target officers for espionage or attack. The United States, for example, currently has accused China of hacking on the Office of Personnel Management sometime between 2013 and 2015 and taking away highly sensitive information on leading U.S. officials.
The measure also would request multiple intelligence agencies to step up vigilance on Chinese activities in the United States and inside the borders of close U.S. allies called the Five Eyes, which include Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Lawmakers need the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Defense Intelligence Agency to submit a report on efforts by foreign adversaries to build and supply telecom and cybersecurity equipment for the nearest U.S. allies. The United States has put significant pressure on allies to not purchase 5G gear from China’s Huawei, which Washington sees as a national security threat to U.S. communications networks.
The measure also would ask intelligence agencies to examine the feasibility of forming advisory councils focused on transnational risks stemming from disease outbreaks, pandemics and other worldwide health threats. U.S. spy agencies already are part of a Climate Security Advisory Council to look at how climate change may undermine American interests.
The laws”includes important provisions related to global health and pandemics; the challenge posed by a rising China, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and 5G; recruitment and retention for the workforce; and other regional priorities, including the Middle East and Afghanistan,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.
Among other China-related issues, the measure would inquire the spy agencies to identify Chinese influence activities within the U.S. that target national employees, researchers, scientists and students in science and engineering sectors.
It would request the FBI to step up public awareness about China’s activities in the U.S.
On other matters, the measure will ask spy agencies to examine the impact of lifting the United Nations arms embargo on Iran, and whether such a transfer would lead Tehran into an arms buildup in the region. The agencies also would be requested to assess Iran’s nuclear research and development actions.
On Russia, lawmakers want the CIA to examine corrupt activities of Russian and other Eastern European oligarchs who support Moscow, with a focus on drug smuggling, individual traffi