A Chinese food manufacturing company has bought 300 acres of land in North Dakota, just 20 minutes from the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
The Fufeng Group, which is based out of Shandong, China, has recently purchased the sprawling property in Grand Forks, North Dakota, CNBC reports. The 300-acre plot of land is roughly 20 minutes from the Grand Forks Air Force Base.
CNBC notes that the base is “home to some of the nation’s most sensitive military drone technology” and that it also houses a space networking center, which a North Dakota senator called “the backbone of all U.S. military communication across the globe.”
Some security experts are calling for the project to be halted, warning that the plant could give Chinese intelligence increased access to the military base’s operations. The United States Airforce, however, has not yet taken an official stance on the purchase.
Major Jeremy Fox, an officer at the base, has also warned of the potential risks posed by the purchase. In a memo he passed around the base in April, the officer argued that Chinese intelligence would be able to intercept drone and space-based communications received and sent by the base.
Fox remarked in the memo, “Some of the most sensitive elements of Grand Forks exist with the digital uplinks and downlinks inherent with unmanned air systems and their interaction with space-based assets,” going on to say that data collection from Chinese intelligence “would present a costly national security risk causing grave damage to United States’ strategic advantages.”
Fox even noted that such interception by Chinese intelligence would be covert and that the Air Force would not be able to detect that they were being spied on by the foreign power.
Lea Greene, a spokesperson for the base, released a statement saying, “In an effort to raise awareness of what he deemed concerning with respect to the company in question moving into the Grand Forks area, Maj. Fox submitted his personal assessment of potential vulnerabilities to the Grand Forks Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations.”
A May 26th report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission bolstered Fox’s case, saying “the location of the land close to the base is particularly convenient for monitoring air traffic flows in and out of the base, among other security related concerns.”
Meanwhile, some have defended the purchase. Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski is advocating for the project given that it is estimated to create 200 jobs.
Eric Chutorash, the chief operating officer of Fufeng in the United States, has argued, “We’re under U.S. law, I’m an American citizen, I grew up my whole life here, and I am not going to be doing any type of espionage activities or be associated with a company that does, and I know my team feels the exact same way.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) opposes the project, remarking “I think we grossly underappreciate how effective they are at collecting information, collecting data, using it in nefarious ways,” referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (AR) and Tommy Tuberville (AL) have also introduced a bill that would ban China and firms linked to China from buying land in the U.S.
Sen. Cotton remarked in a statement, “Chinese investments in American farmland put our food security at risk and provide opportunities for Chinese espionage against our military bases and critical infrastructure. Instead of allowing these purchases, the U.S. government must bar the Communist Party from purchasing our land.”
The creation of the plant is opposed by both the Democratic chairman and Republican ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“We should be seriously concerned about Chinese investment in locations close to sensitive sites, such as military bases around the U.S.,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, remarked.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, the ranking member, also condemned the creation of the plant, contending, “It is dangerous, foolish, and shortsighted to allow the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies to purchase land near U.S. military installations.”