The Republican Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee has said that it was “very likely” that “military personnel” were being inserted into the United States by China by crossing the southern land border.
Announcing an investigation into the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, over his role in the border crisis, Mark Green, a former U.S. Army serviceman and representative for Tennessee, claimed many of the Chinese nationals entering America were “military-age men,” many of them having “known ties” to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
It comes after Melissa Dalton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, told the House Armed Services Committee in March that China, along with Russia, was now posing “more dangerous challenges to the safety and security of the U.S. homeland.”
Both Dalton and Green cited the incident in February in which a Chinese spy balloon—which Beijing claims was a wayward weather balloon—passed over the continental U.S. before being shot down and recovered off the coast of South Carolina as a sign of this new threat.
During a press conference, Green noted that there had been “a massive surge in Chinese nationals” crossing the southern border, claiming “many of whom are military-age men, many with known ties to the PLA, ties to the CCP.”
Public data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency shows 2023 has seen a spike in encounters of Chinese nationals at the southern land border compared to the previous years—when border crossings were overall lower due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions. As of April, there had been a total of 9,854 encounters in the fiscal year-to-date, which runs from October to September, rising sharply from February.
In 2022, there were 2,176 encounters. While over 1,500 of these were individuals in a family unit, the vast majority (8,304) were single adults—though a breakdown of age and what proportion are male is not given. Neither has the government publicly stated if any were believed to have ties to Beijing.
Asked about the credibility of Green’s claim, Rebecca Grant Ph.D., a national security analyst at IRIS Independent Research, told Newsweek that she personally believed it to be true, referencing the likelihood of some immigrants having ties to the Chinese state given the many Chinese nationals already in the U.S.—5.4 million in 2021, according to Migration Policy Institute figures.
“If you’re a bad guy that wants to infiltrate operatives into the U.S.A., the southern border is a pretty easy way to do it,” she added.
When questioned on his source for the claims, Green said that he had heard it from a border sector chief, but declined to say more. However, he added: “We have a classified briefing on it in the very near future.”
Newsweek approached CBP and the Department of Homeland Security for comment regarding Green’s claims via email on Friday. Grant said that it was an area of national security where the intelligence community was “never going to give us public information,” but “the fact that they’re going to brief Congress on it tells me that there’s something there.”
Green also said that the alleged insertions were “very likely using Russia’s template of sending military personnel into Ukraine,” adding: “China is doing the same in the United States.” In March, a report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank found that Moscow had embedded a “large agent network” within Ukraine prior to its invasion of the nation in 2022, in the midst of a destabilizing battle with Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region.
Grant said that those in the U.S. national intelligence industry “have not heard of a Chinese infiltration tactic like that,” but argued that the opportunity presented by the southern border of entering the country illegally had also not been so exploited before.
CBP data shows there have nearly been as many border crossings by people of all nationalities in the first seven months of this fiscal year as in the whole of 2021, and that number appears on track to surpass levels for the past three years. According to NBC News, 2022 broke the previous annual record for border crossings by a million.
Amid a growing border crisis, there is stark division over the Biden administration’s handling of the situation. After a Trump-era policy denying asylum seekers on health grounds expired, some have argued the government is not doing enough to stop undocumented migration, while others have said the system still remains too hardline.
Grant also drew a distinction between the possible intentions of Russia’s infiltration of Ukraine and the supposed infiltration of the U.S.
“We know Russia infiltrated political operatives in the Donbas, special forces maybe even up to and around Kyiv, and who knows what else. Russia did some very organized infiltration,” she said.
“The China case is a little different, where you’re looking not [to] infiltrate as a spearhead of a military force, but to augment their long-running espionage against the United States,” the national security expert added. “It’s not the beginning of a military operation necessarily, it’s more probably an enhancement of their already pretty substantial espionage operations here.”
However, she said that “deep insertions are a Russian spy tradecraft from way back,” and the closer alliance between it and China that the invasion of Ukraine has spawned made it “entirely possible” that Beijing was “copycatting” Russian tactics.