A Chinese company offered to build COVID-19 testing labs in the U.S. at the start of the pandemic, with intelligence officials warning it might have been an effort to collect DNA from American citizens, according to a “60 Minutes” report.
BGI Group, touted as the largest biotech firm in the world, offered to build and run testing labs in Washington, New York and California, among other states.
The offer raised suspicions and led Bill Evanina, then-director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, to warn the states against the offer.
“Foreign powers can collect, store and exploit biometric information from COVID tests,” Evanina said in a public notice, according to “60 Minutes.”
In this Jan. 20, 2021, file photo, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying speaks during the daily press briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Beijing. China is trying to spread doubt about the effectiveness of Western vaccines and the origin of the coronavirus as a World Health Organization-selected team of scientists are in the city where the pandemic first broke out. (AP Photo/Liu Zheng, File)
Evanina, like many officials, worries that China might use companies like BGI Group to collect biodata, which he believes poses a national security threat as the world starts to pay more attention to such assets.
Biodata can determine the path of health care, indicating the kinds of medical concerns prevalent now or in the future, allowing an entity to create a monopoly over the therapy or drugs necessary to treat them, he told “60 Minutes.”
“This shows the nefarious mindset of the Communist Party of China, to take advantage of a worldwide crisis like COVID,” Evanina said. “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?”
Evanina said he believes China is moving aggressively to control a commodity that most people do not currently value. He may have prevented states from accepting BGI Group’s offer, but Evanina warned that Chinese firms have been investing in U.S. biotech companies for years. BGI had already been developing partnerships with U.S. hospitals long before the pandemic started.
“It’s your past and your future as well as your children’s future,” Evanina explained to “60 Minutes.”
“It’s very risky and I think the unknown is probably the riskiest part.”
BGI Group denied any of the alleged motivations.
“The notion that the genomic data of American citizens is in any way compromised through the activities of BGI in the U.S. is groundless,” BGI said in a statement.