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Is That a Spy in Your Car? Nadia Schadlow



LIDAR mapping technology, provided by Chinese company Hesai, as seen from a self-driving Kodiak truck in the U.S. (Photo via Kodiak Robotics, Inc.)

You know what the Chinese government does really well? Spy.

Last year, a human rights group reported that the Chinese government had set up 100 secret “police stations”—seven of them in the U.S.—to spy on Chinese nationals. At the recently concluded G20 summit in New Delhi, the Chinese delegation refused to put some strangely shaped luggage through the hotel scanner. A hotel employee later reported that he saw “suspicious equipment” in one of the open suitcases. And just a few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese nationals, posing as tourists, have made some 100 attempts to gain access to U.S. military bases in recent years—including into a missile range in New Mexico. Chinese scuba divers have also been spotted swimming near a rocket launch site in Florida. Military investigators call them “gate-crashers.”

There is a second kind of spying that relies on technology instead of people. Earlier this year, a Chinese surveillance balloon was sighted traveling across the United States. Huawei, the giant Chinese telecommunications company that has close ties to the military, has long been suspected of creating a “backdoor” in its routers and other equipment, allowing it to scoop up information from U.S. users that can be sent back to China. In 2020, the U.S. Justice Department charged Huawei with conspiracy to steal trade secrets. (Huawei has denied that its equipment has been used to spy on the West.) And of course there’s TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, and which many U.S. officials are convinced is used to collect data on Americans.

Now comes the latest threat—a technology, soon to be ubiquitous, called LIDAR. 

LIDAR stands for Light Detection and Ranging, and it’s essentially a system of complex sensors that can, for instance, serve as the “eyes” for a self-driving vehicle. Indeed, even cars that are only semiautonomous have a LIDAR system to guide them. That is the primary way LIDAR is used today, but it is hardly its only application. It’s also a mapping technology, an aid to the growing number of “smart cities,” a tool for robotics, farming, meteorology, you name it. 

As recently as 2018, most LIDAR systems sold in the U.S. were made by American companies. Today? The leading manufacturer is a company called Hesai. And though it has a Silicon Valley office, it is not a Silicon Valley company. It is a Chinese company that is now listed on the U.S. stock exchange.

How dominant is Hesai? The company says that 12 of the top 15 autonomous driving companies are Hesai customers, including Zoox, which is owned by Amazon, and Nuro, which has self-driving cars on the road in Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. In 2022, Hesai sold nearly one out of every two LIDAR systems globally. For the first six months of 2023, Hesai saw a 630 percent increase in the number of units sold, far outpacing all of its American rivals put together. (Neither Google’s Waymo nor Tesla use Hesai’s LIDAR. Waymo makes its own LIDAR sensors, while Elon Musk believes that LIDAR is inferior to the system of cameras Tesla uses to see the road.)

Now, this market is set to get much, much bigger. According to the Yole Group, an international market research and strategy company, total LIDAR revenues are expected to reach nearly $5 billion by 2028, compared to $332 million in 2022. Hesai is well-positioned to capture the lion’s share of that.

This should make Americans very nervous. Why? Because the Chinese government likely sees in Hesai another means to capture information from the West that can be funneled back to China. In a statement earlier this month, Hesai insisted that its LIDAR “does not and cannot independently wirelessly transmit any operational or biometric data or data of any other kind.” But China is a country with a law that requires organizations and citizens to “support, assist, and cooperate with the state intelligence work.” At a minimum, vigilance is required.

Yet vigilance is precisely what appears to be missing, as America increasingly uses Hesai’s LIDAR. This includes the Department of Defense. 

The growing dominance of LIDAR technology in America could pose a national security threat. (Photoshop by The Free Press)

Late last year, the Defense Department awarded a $50 million contract to Kodiak Robotics, a company whose technology powers self-driving trucks—and that uses Hesai’s LIDAR system. These trucks have been deployed on military bases, which means that they have been creating detailed geospatial maps of the bases. Because these LIDAR sensors are networked, they are likely connected to sensitive security and communications systems.

What are the chances the Chinese government would like to have that information? High.

Meanwhile, high-end drones are already using LIDAR as a mapping aid. The Congressional Research Service recently described the potential threat this all poses, stating that “China could use this information to conduct military or industrial espionage or gain operational advantages in a military conflict. [Chinese] firms also could introduce malware via a software update and degrade the performance of systems using the technology.”

And it’s not just a military problem. Imagine if LIDAR becomes an integral part of the power grid, or manufacturing plants, or various kinds of American infrastructure—something that is quite likely within the next decade or so. 

So why are companies willing to buy Hesai’s sensors? The answer is the same one that has allowed Chinese companies to take over solar panels, 5G, and drones. The product is good—but more importantly, less expensive than American-made LIDAR. It’s good partly because Hesai has stolen other companies’ intellectual property, just as many other Chinese companies have done over the decades. Hesai has called this allegation “baseless,” but in 2021, it settled a patent infringement suit filed by American competitor Velodyne for $20 million, plus royalty payments that will continue until 2030. 

It’s cheap because Hesai is selling its LIDAR systems below its own cost—something it can afford to do because, like many cutting-edge Chinese technology companies, it has the strong backing of China’s Communist Party. Congress recently expressed fears that Chinese LIDAR companies have flooded the U.S. market with “heavily subsidized” products, and that many of these companies are receiving research support and considerable government funding.

There are voices in the U.S. government who are warning about LIDAR’s potential threat, but they are few and far between. North Carolina Senator Ted Budd, a Republican, sent a letter earlier this summer to Dr. Laura D. Taylor-Kale, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy, raising the national security risks that would come with relying on Chinese LIDAR. (The Pentagon did not respond to several emails from The Free Press.)

And Congress is adding a provision to next year’s defense budget expressing concern about “the proliferation of Chinese technology in the United States that gathers critical information on U.S. geography, vehicle traffic, human patterns, and behaviors,” specifically naming LIDAR. It points out that LIDAR is used to surveil America’s critical infrastructure, including terminals and airports, and that the sensors facilitate the gathering of “enormous amounts of information.” 

These developments are positive. And yet after years of highlighting the dangers of becoming dependent on China’s technology, why are we watching the same patterns unfold? It is simply not enough to express concern. The government needs to act to protect America’s commercial and national security interests.

America today is beholden to Chinese companies for antibiotics, lithium batteries, 5G equipment, and more. Allowing a Chinese company to take control of the LIDAR market would be economically foolish—and likely very dangerous.

Nadia Schadlow is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and was a Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy in 2017 and 2018. Read Geoffrey Cain’s Free Press piece about How China Got Our Nation’s Kids Hooked on ‘Digital Fentanyl.’

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May 27, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson




The White House hosted a three-day state visit for President William Ruto and First Lady Rachel Ruto of Kenya beginning on May 23, 2024. The visit marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Kenya and is the first state visit for an African leader since President John Kufuor of Ghana visited in 2008.

The Biden administration has worked to develop ties to African nations, whose people are leery of the United States not only because of what Biden called the “original sin” of colonists importing enslaved Africans to North American shores, but also because while the Soviet Union tended to support the movements when African nations began to throw off colonial rule, the U.S. tended to support right-wing reaction. More recently, during the Trump years the United States withdrew from engagement with what the former president allegedly called “sh*thole countries.”

In contrast, officials from the Biden administration have noted the importance of the people of Africa to the future of the global community. Currently, the median age on the continent is 19, and experts estimate that by 2050, one in four people on Earth will live on the African continent. 

Saying that Africans must have control over their own countries and their own future, U.S. officials backed the admission of the African Union to the Group of 20 (G-20), welcoming the organization’s 55 member states to the intergovernmental forum that focuses on global issues, and pledged more than $55 billion to the continent to aid security, support democratic institutions, and advance civil rights and the rule of law. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, First Lady Jill Biden, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have all visited the continent, where they have emphasized partnership with African countries for economic development rather than a competition with China and Russia for resource extraction. 

In March 2023, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia to emphasize the connections between Africa and North America, focus on the importance of democracy as Russian disinformation in Africa is driving pro-Russian and anti-U.S. sentiment, and announce U.S. investment in the continent as well as calling for more. 

But in July 2023, those efforts appeared to take a step back when a military coup in Niger deposed elected president Mohamed Bazoum. A few months later, the ruling junta asked the forces of former colonial power France to leave the country and turned to Russia’s Wagner group for security. In March, U.S. diplomats and military officials expressed concern about the increasing presence of Russia in Niger, and a few days later, officials told close to 1,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country to leave as well. Russian troops moved into a military base the U.S. has been using. 

The U.S. says its troops will leave by mid-September and has pledged to continue negotiations. Niger was a key ally in the U.S. antiterrorism efforts against armed forces allied with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Neighboring Chad has also asked the 100 U.S. troops in the country to leave.

Meanwhile, in the year since her trip to Africa, Vice President Harris has focused on digital inclusion in Africa, recognizing that the spread of digital technology has the potential to promote economic opportunity and gender equality and to create jobs, as well as open new markets for U.S. exports. Last week, she announced that the African Development Bank Group and Mastercard have launched the Mobilizing Access to the Digital Economy Alliance (MADE), which is working with public and private investors to provide digital access for 100 million individuals and businesses in Africa over the next ten years, focusing first on agriculture and women. 

Kenya’s President Ruto won election in 2022, promising voters that he would champion the “hustlers,” the young workers piecing together an income informally. U.S. ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman, former chief executive officer of eBay and Hewlett-Packard and unsuccessful 2010 Republican candidate for governor of California, has supported this idea of economic development. Focusing on “commercial diplomacy,” she has worked with Ruto to encourage business investment in Kenya.  

At a state luncheon with President Ruto last week, Harris reiterated her belief “that African ideas and innovations will have a significant impact on the future of the entire world—a belief driven in part by the extraordinary creativity, dynamism, and energy of young African leaders” and by the continent’s young demographic. She reiterated the need to “revise and upgrade the U.S.-Africa narrative, which is long overdue; and to bring fresh focus to the innovation and ingenuity that is so prevalent across the continent of Africa.” She warned: “Any leader that ignores the continent of Africa is doing so at their own peril.” 

While Kenya’s main economic sectors are agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism, it is also a technology hub, and Harris called out its “Silicon Savannah,” a technology ecosystem that produced the cellphone-based money transfer system M-PESA, as well as startups making biodegradable plastics, creating drinking water from humidity, and so on. 

Ruto thanked Harris and Biden “for helping us reshape, reengineer, and write a new narrative for our continent.” Africans “are going to write our own story,” Ruto said, adding that the narrative of “this continent of conflict, trouble, disease, poverty” is “not the story of Africa.” “Africa is a continent of tremendous opportunity,” he said, “the largest reserves of energy—renewable energy resources; 60 percent of the world’s arable, uncultivated land; 30 percent of…global mineral wealth, including those that are necessary for energy transition; the youngest continent, which will produce 40 percent of the world’s…workforce by 2050 and where a quarter of the world’s population will be living, providing the world’s biggest single market. In short,” he said, “Africa is a rich continent and a continent of opportunity.”  

In a conversation with Vice President Harris and Ambassador Whitman, President Ruto said that the young population of Africa is “tech hungry” and that technology “is the instrument that we can use to leapfrog Africa from where we are to…catch up with the rest of the world.” The digital space, he said, is the space that will create the greatest output from young people and women. To that end, he said, Kenya is investing 30% of its annual budget in education, training, knowledge, and skills. 

As part of his reach for global leadership, Ruto has put Kenya at the front of an initiative backed by the United Nations for a multinational security intervention in Haiti, where officials have asked for help restoring order against about 200 armed gangs in the country, coalitions of which control about 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 exacerbated political instability in Haiti by creating a power vacuum, while weapons flowing into the country, primarily from straw purchases in the U.S., fed violence. Last year, then–prime minister Ariel Henry had pleaded with the United Nations Security Council to bolster Haitian security forces and combat the gangs.

The U.S. declined to lead the effort or to provide troops, although it, along with Canada and France, is funding the mission. On Thursday, Biden explained that “for the United States to deploy forces in the hemisphere just raises all kinds of questions that can be easily misrepresented about what we’re trying to do…. So we set out to find…a partner or partners who would lead the effort that we would participate in.” Kenya stepped up, although Kenyan opposition leaders, lawyers, and human rights groups are fiercely opposed to deploying Kenyans to the Caribbean nation. 

The Haitian gangs oppose the Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS), which is supposed to consist of 2,500 troops, 1,000 of whom are Kenyans. The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Chad, and Jamaica have officially notified the United Nations secretary-general of their intent to send personnel to the mission. Other nations have said they will support the mission, but as of May 20 had not yet sent official notifications. The MSS was supposed to arrive by May 23, but a base for it in Port-au-Prince is not yet fully equipped. Experts also told Caitlin Hu of CNN that Haitian authorities have not done enough to explain to local people how the mission will work, and Haitian police say what is most necessary is more support for local police.  

Kenyan news reported that the advance team of Kenyan police officers who went to Haiti to assess conditions for their deployment there will recommend a delay in deployment.






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I Helped Make Standing Rock Go Viral. Now I Regret It. Lucy Biggers




Lucy Biggers poses at Standing Rock in December 2016, after she went live from the camp on the NowThis Facebook page. (All photos courtesy of the author)

Eight years ago, I was in my mid-20s, and like many of my colleagues at NowThis News, I was completely aligned with the company’s left-wing content. As a social video producer, each day I logged on and searched my newsfeed for stories and videos that would appeal to our millions of Facebook followers. I called myself a journalist but really I was an early social media influencer, pushing a very specific point of view. 

The stories that got the most engagement were ones that elicited strong emotions, either happiness or anger. A “happy” story was one in which the good guys—LGBTQ activists, BLM protesters, climate change warriors, and the like—won some battle against greedy capitalists, cops, or (insert white authority figure here). An “angry” story was one in which those oppressors screwed over the good guys. When I came across a story I thought could go viral, I quickly edited the video and added subtitles and music. Then I’d sit back and wait for the reaction from our like-minded followers.

So, in October 2016, when the actress Shailene Woodley popped up on my computer screen, I knew she was going to generate a whole lot of views.

The clip showed her speech after she won an award from the Environmental Media Association. For months, she had been deeply involved in trying to block the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Flanked by several members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, she spoke emotionally about the importance of stopping the oil pipeline.

“What we are seeing right now at Standing Rock is that thousands of people are committed to fighting and winning a battle against corporate greed with nothing but love and compassion, prayer, and ceremony,” she said. “I’m calling out to everyone in this room tonight, show up. Don’t just tweet about it. . . Go to Standing Rock. Go to Standing Rock.

I quickly did my thing: I ran the video through my editing software, moving the best moments to the beginning. I added emotional music by searching “heartfelt” and “somber” in our music library. I wrote some subtitles. Then I posted it.

Within 24 hours, the video had over 1 million views. By December, that number was up to 17 million. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposed the pipeline because it was going to be routed underneath Lake Oahe, where the reservation gets its water, which they consider sacred. Even though the pipeline would be 95 feet below the lake, the tribe feared a leak could contaminate it. The protests began in April 2016, when some 60 members of the tribe rode on horseback for miles to set up the Sacred Stone Camp, which soon became known as Standing Rock. They vowed to stay until the pipeline was stopped.

Over the next few months, thanks to the viral clips shared by NowThis and other left-leaning social media sites, hundreds and then thousands of people joined the camp. The Native Americans led the protests, sometimes locking themselves to pipeline machinery or trespassing on the construction sites. Every day, protesters uploaded videos of these “acts of resistance” to Facebook. 

Woodley was a regular at Standing Rock, often livestreaming on Facebook. In one grainy video, she talked about the evils of capitalism, the threat of climate change, and out-of-control corporate greed. She talked about her vegan diet and the increasing difficulty of finding nontoxic foods. In my mind, all of these issues were connected. Late-stage capitalism, colonialism, commercial agriculture, and corporate greed were all part of the mindset that was leading a greedy pipeline company—Energy Transfer Partners—to desecrate Native American land.

For months leading up to Woodley’s speech, I had watched videos of the Standing Rock protests every day, all day long. The term doomscrolling hadn’t been invented yet, but that’s what I was doing. In mid-October, I had watched footage of the police clashing violently with Standing Rock protesters. I quickly edited the footage for NowThis. The next day, Senator Bernie Sanders reshared my video to his millions of followers. Talk about validation!

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Rashida Tlaib Speaks at Detroit Conference Tied to Terrorist Group Francesca Block




Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks at the People’s Conference for Palestine last Saturday. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Over the weekend, while most Americans were barbecuing and honoring our fallen soldiers, U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib was in Detroit, speaking at a conference alongside two people with links to a U.S. designated terrorist organization. 

Tlaib was a surprise speaker Saturday at the three-day “People’s Conference for Palestine.” Minutes before she took the stage at the Huntington Place convention center, hundreds of attendees, many dressed in keffiyehs, danced and sang along to music, which one of the organizers told the crowd was a “medley of songs from the first Intifada.” Then he introduced Tlaib, who walked up to the podium with her fist in the air as the audience stood and cheered.

In her 15-minute talk, the Michigan congresswoman accused Israel of “war crimes” and called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “murderous war criminal.” She also appeared to threaten Joe Biden’s election prospects in her state. Referring to the campus protesters, Tlaib stated: “It is disgraceful that the Biden administration and my colleagues in Congress continue to smear them for protesting to save lives no matter faith or ethnicity. It is cowardly. But we’re not gonna forget in November, are we?” 

Wissam Rafidi, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist terrorist group founded in 1967, also addressed the conference. The PFLP, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, is not as prominent as Hamas or other terrorist groups. But has, among other things, claimed responsibility in 2019 for exploding a device that killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl in Dolev, a settlement in the West Bank.

At the conference on Friday, Rafidi said, “These Zionists lie like they breathe. I want to assure everyone that there is no longer a place for a two-state solution for any Palestinian. The only solution is one democratic Palestinian land which will end the Zionist project in Palestine.” He also said: “Hamas is part of the resistance of the Palestinian people.” 

Another speaker at the conference was Sana’ Daqqa, the wife of a PFLP terrorist who was sentenced to life in prison for the 1984 abduction and murder of an Israeli soldier. Speaking on both Friday and Sunday, Daqqa praised the anti-Israel movement on U.S. campuses. She then referenced the Hamas massacre on October 7, called the al-Aqsa Flood, as the response to Israel. “The only thing that can stop this is a flood,” she said. “This is what the resistance intended, that the flood would become floods throughout the entire region.” 

The conference was organized by over a dozen pro-Palestine groups, including The People’s Forum, which owns the conference’s website domain. As a recent Free Press investigation showed, The People’s Forum is funded by multimillionaire Marxist Neville Roy Singham, who was born and became wealthy in America but now lives in Shanghai where he funds a number of propaganda sites boosting the Chinese Communist Party. People’s Forum’s executive director Manolo De Los Santos also spoke at the conference, calling for the end of America. “We have to bring down this empire with one million cuts, and those one million cuts have to come from every sector of struggle in this room,” De Los Santos said.

The group’s involvement in the conference “underscores foreign influence efforts into destabilizing U.S. institutions through grassroots activism,” said Alex Goldenberg, lead intelligence analyst at the Network Contagion Research Institute, which researches the spread of “hostile ideological content.”

“The rhetoric from speakers, including those with direct ties to terrorist organizations, glorifies violent resistance and revolutionary actions,” Goldenberg added. “This, coupled with the call for sustained and intensified direct action, raises the alarming possibility that individuals are being indoctrinated to embrace and participate in violence.”

The People’s Forum and its partners, including the Palestinian Youth Movement, are now organizing a rally in D.C. on June 8, calling on protesters to serve as a “red line” and to “surround the White House.” 

“Their explicit objectives are to organize and mobilize protests over the summer, which should raise significant national security concerns,” Goldenberg said.

In February, Tlaib’s sister helped organize a protest vote in Michigan’s Democratic primary against Biden’s policy of supporting Israel in the Gaza War. More than 100,000 Michigan voters cast their ballot for “uncommitted,” including Tlaib herself. As of press time, Tlaib’s spokesperson had not responded to a request for comment from The Free Press

Francesca Block is a reporter for The Free Press. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @FrancescaABlock. Eli Lake is a Free Press columnist. Follow him at @EliLake

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