Trump Officials Battle Over Plan to Keep Technology Out of Chinese Hands
The government’s effort to roll out the controls has been complicated by the departure of several high-level officials, including Nazak Nikakhtar, who oversaw the process until she withdrew her nomination as under secretary for industry and security and returned to a different post in August. Her withdrawal stemmed in part from the internal administration fight, according to people familiar with the circumstances.
An official from the Bureau of Industry and Security, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations, acknowledged that the effort was taking longer than originally anticipated, mostly because of an intense workload and lack of resources. But the official said that the bureau was working hard to produce tailored regulations that would strengthen security, and that it would publish proposals for controls of specific technologies on a rolling basis beginning next month.
The department has been tasked with creating two lists of technologies that cannot be exported, or shared with foreign citizens, even on American soil. The first batch, which many analysts expected to be announced earlier this year, focuses on “emerging,” or new, technologies. The second will suggest updates to the “foundational” technologies that are already widely used, such as semiconductors.
The current task is made trickier because the United States is no longer the clear leader in many technologies. Europe leads in some types of 3-D printing. China is surging ahead in gene editing. And the democratization of technology creates the potential for someone in any country to build a biological weapon or a 3-D printer in his or her basement.
These advanced technologies are a great advantage to the United States — and also to American adversaries, said Riz Ramakdawala, a senior aerospace engineer at the Defense Technology Security Administration.
“The problem comes down to: What’s the right level of control?” he said.
Past efforts to regulate technologies provide a cautionary tale. In the late 1990s, the United States placed tight restrictions on exporting satellite technology in an effort to protect an industry deemed vital to national security.
The effort backfired. Wary of restrictions that could cripple their ability to ship products overseas, companies like Boeing, Maxar Technologies and Lockheed Martin moved satellite manufacturing overseas. According to a report by the Commerce Department, companies said the controls had eroded American competitiveness in the industry and led to $1 billion to $2 billion of lost opportunities from 2009 to 2012.