New Group Aims to Shield US States From Chinese Influence Operations

‘We’re bringing new concepts into the states, particularly the concept that the states are now on the frontlines against foreign adversaries,’ the founder says.

A new group aims to fend off the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) influence in the United States by getting legislation passed in about 15 states in 2024, according to founder and CEO Michael Lucci.

State Armor, a nonprofit with an advocacy branch, will focus on three areas at the state level: protecting critical infrastructure, building a supply chain independent from China, and shutting down the CCP’s influence operations.

“I think that [the CCP] view our decentralized system—our federalist system—as a vulnerability to exploit, and so we want to turn it into an asset for protecting the country that we have all these nimble, fast-acting states that can speed policy solutions that are needed very quickly,” Mr. Lucci told The Epoch Times about the premise of his organization’s founding.

Although the official launch was on Jan. 31, the organization was incorporated in September 2023 and has been actively working on state legislative issues.

The broader founding work began three years ago; Mr. Lucci said he began speaking to senior national security members of the Trump administration then.

“It was vindicating in that they perceive the states to be a gap in the same way that I perceive the states to be a gap,” he said, describing the feedback he obtained from these officials. “And that the solutions that I believe need to be enacted at the state level, they tended to agree with that.”

A New Concept

Mr. Lucci said that national security expertise had been concentrated in Washington and that many states had limited exposure during the Cold War because the former Soviet Union wasn’t as economically integrated with the United States as today’s China.

He spoke of an essential aspect of his new group’s vision: “We’re bringing new concepts into the states, particularly the concept that the states are now on the frontlines against foreign adversaries. That’s a new concept; states haven’t operated that way in a very long time.”

He has observed a “very broad awareness of the problem of the Chinese Communist Party” at the state level. “The gap is: What should we do at the state level?”

He said that’s the gap that State Armor sets out to address.

Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), chair of the House Select Committee on the CCP, shares the same view.

“From CCP-affiliated purchases of agricultural land to efforts by the Party to influence state and local politics, states are on the front lines of our New Cold War with the Chinese Communist Party,” he said in a statement.

“We may call this a ‘strategic competition,’ but this is not a polite tennis match. The most fundamental human rights and freedoms are at stake. I commend State Armor for acting with a sense of urgency to expose the CCP’s nefarious networks across our states and equip local lawmakers with the tools to fight this New Cold War.”

States Can Act More Swiftly

Mr. Lucci says his new organization can help enact state-level laws, which may be achieved faster than in Congress, to address local CCP threats more promptly. He sees that as a part of a “whole-of-government solution” in response to the CCP’s “whole-of-government attack upon the United States.”

An example of a swift state-level action is a Texas law enacted in June 2021 that prohibits the CCP’s access to Texan critical infrastructure—communication, electricity grid, waste treatment, and water facilities—through business agreements involving a Chinese company or citizen. The law was passed after federal-level national security mechanisms proved insufficient.

A Chinese billionaire linked to the Chinese military purchased 140,000 acres of agricultural land in Del Rio—within 80 miles of the Laughlin Air Force Base and within some of the base’s pilot training zones—to build a wind farm and was going to gain access to the electricity grid in Texas. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a federal panel that reviews foreign acquisitions for national security risks, cleared the transaction due to its limited jurisdiction over real estate purchases.

At a congressional hearing last week, intelligence leaders revealed a multi-agency operation that removed Chinese malware embedded in critical infrastructure throughout the United States. They said those cyberattacks focused on oil, gas, water, internet, energy, and transportation infrastructure.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the Chinese malware was designed to directly disrupt, degrade, and destroy U.S. infrastructure, likely in coordination with direct military actions in the event of a conflict between the two nations.

“Let’s be clear. Cyber threats to our critical infrastructure represent real-world threats to our physical safety,” he told the lawmakers.

Replicate Federal Policies in States

There are cases in which the federal government acted faster. The prohibition of using Chinese drones is one of them.

Federal agencies and federally funded programs are now forbidden to use Chinese drones as a result of the annual defense act passed last December. The restriction is a step up from the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which banned the Defense Department from using Chinese drones.

However, state agencies can still use Chinese drones, except in Florida and Arkansas. Both states passed laws last year to address the associated security risks.

Until the U.S. government sanctions Chinese drones, “we need the states to replicate some of the smart federal solutions, like don’t buy these drones that are essentially spying upon our critical infrastructure across the country,” Mr. Lucci said.

He said his immediate goal is to enact state policies in about 15 states, most of which will wrap up their 2024 legislative sessions by June.

“By next year, we want to be in twice as many states; we want to be active in 30 states next year,” he said.

Andrew Thornebrooke contributed to this report.

 

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