Breaking up U.S. tech companies could lead to China becoming "the world's leading innovator," a group of former top national security officials said in a letter to House leaders.
Axios obtained a copy of the letter signed by the former security officials, who warned of the potential results of imposing severe restrictions solely on U.S. tech companies.
Antitrust legislation that fails to target Chinese companies — e.g. Huawei, Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba — could impede innovation that is "critical to maintaining America’s technological edge," the officials said.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats were among the 12 officials who sent the letter, dated Wednesday, to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
The security officials wrote "America’s distinct advantage in technological innovation" has helped maintain a military and intelligence edge "as we confront China's aggressive ambitions to undermine U.S. influence and shape the global order."
"The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) knows that to achieve this goal, China must become the world’s leading innovator," the officials wrote. "To this end, the CCP continues to employ industrial policies in order to create and support 'national champion' technology companies, providing them with an economic advantage over Western counterparts.
"We strongly believe it is in the best interest of our national and economic security to prevent China from achieving its objective of becoming the global leader in technological innovation."
In their letter, the ex-security officials praised the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, a $200 billion China-focused package overwhelmingly passed by the Senate in June. However, they called on Congress to study the national security implications of the House antitrust proposals before moving forward, Axios said.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., the chair of House Judiciary's Antitrust Subcommittee, is among lawmakers who want to approve the antitrust legislation.
"These arguments [by the security officials] are the same arguments that Facebook and Google have been making for a very long time in an effort to avoid regulation," Cicilline told Axios. "And I think actually that the evidence is just the opposite."
Several of the letter's signatories, since leaving public service, have joined the boards of organizations that receive funding or do work for tech companies such as Amazon and Google.
Cicilline said that competition drives innovation, and that the lack of competition in the digital marketplace has led to a "very dangerous" decline in innovation that poses its own national security threat.
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., the subcommittee's top Republican, also supports moving forward with the bill.
"Let’s be clear: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are hurting U.S. competition by engaging in anti-competitive practices. Our bills will create competition," a Buck spokesperson told Axios.
Besides Panetta and Coats, the letter was signed by Robert Cardillo, former National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency director; Adm. James Foggo III, former U.S. Navy commander Europe-Africa; Sue Gordon, former principal deputy director of national intelligence; Rick Ledgett Jr., former NSA deputy director; Michael Morell, former acting CIA director; John Negroponte, former director of national intelligence and deputy secretary of state; Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, former director of naval intelligence and commander of the Tenth Fleet; Frances Townsend, former White House homeland security adviser; Dr. Michael Vickers, former undersecretary of defense for intelligence; and Adm. James "Sandy" Winnefeld Jr., former Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman.
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