Over two decades, as the FBI focused on pursuing terrorists in the post-9/11 world, the relationship between the FBI and companies has often been distant and marked by high-profile battles. Director Christopher Wray and other senior officials are waging an intense campaign to turn that around. His new message to the private sector: The biggest national-security threats are from the Chinese government and the cyber arena. You are often the target, and to protect you we need your help, reports the Wall Street Journal. “I’m glad you’re here, in every sense of the word,” Wray told a gathering of Fortune 500 executives last year, urging them to work with the FBI. The agency’s top cyber official, Bryan Vorndran, tells cybersecurity experts that the FBI is trying to offer “Ritz Carlton-level customer service” to companies that report to the bureau when they are victims of a cyberattack, offering to fight with regulators and deal with the media on their behalf. Only through such cooperation, the bureau says, including trusting the FBI with sensitive corporate information, can the agency marshal an effective response.
The FBI wants to work with U.S. tech companies, venture capital firms and others, to address concerns about the Chinese government, threats to intellectual property, cybersecurity, and critical infrastructure. Wray said the agency has about 2,000 open investigations that potentially involve the Chinese government, involving every FBI field office. He describes the Chinese as running the biggest hacking program in the world. Chinese officials have dismissed the allegations and accused the U.S. of stoking antagonism and confrontation. In the past, top Justice Department officials have centered their dialogue with business on wrongdoing, promising crackdowns on white-collar crime, excessive consolidation, and serving China’s business interests. Part of the change is that the FBI has gradually shifted its counterintelligence efforts to protect what spies seem to want more than ever: sensitive private-sector technology, said Frank Montoya Jr., a longtime FBI counterintelligence agent who retired in 2016. That requires a level of cooperation to which business executives were often not receptive, he said. “Corporate America thought the whole reason the bureau wanted to foster these relationships was to look into insider trading or corrupt practices,” he said. Companies in that position are often reluctant to cooperate too extensively with the FBI out of concerns over where an investigation might lead and the frequent one-way nature of information sharing.