Former counterintelligence official says it’s "100%" likely CCP will use Big Rapids battery facility for spying
Former counterintelligence official William Evanina said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will use Gotion Inc.’s electronic-vehicle battery plant near Big Rapids for spy operations during his sworn testimony on Wednesday to the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.
Evanina served as the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) from 2014-2021 under former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
The NCSC is tasked with providing counterintelligence outreach to U.S. private sector entities that are at risk of foreign intelligence penetration, the NCSC’s website writes.
U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Caledonia, a member of the select committee and whose congressional district includes Big Rapids, asked Evanina during Wednesday’s hearing if it is “basically a guarantee that some of the people who come from China to work on this project will spy for the CCP?”
“100%,” said Evanina in response to Moolenaar’s question.
“There will be an effort by the Communist Party of China to infiltrate that capability via cyber, human and hybrid methods using businessmen, engineers and what we call the non-traditional collector. They will go over and above to implement their efforts in that particular technology that's in your district.”
In an interview with WCMU following Evanina’s testimony, Moolenaar characterized his comments as very concerning. Moolenaar has been a staunch advocate of stopping the construction of the plant in Mecosta county.
“We need to take heed of the warning and stop this Gotion deal,” said Moolenaar.
“We should be clear eyed about the risks and the likelihood that the CCP can use the openings created by Gotion for a nefarious purpose,” Moolenaar continued. “They have tremendous leverage over people and their families who are based in China. And so that's the concern.”
U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Birmingham, and Michigan’s other member of the select committee declined to comment directly on Evanina’s testimony. However, Stevens told WCMU in an email that “all companies with sensitive information should be taking steps to protect themselves from bad actors.”
A spokesperson for the NCSC declined to comment on Evanina’s testimony or the potential role the CCP could play at the plant.
Since Gotion Inc. announced it would break ground for its $2.4 billion plant near Big Rapids in the fall of 2022, hundreds of community members in the surrounding area have adamantly opposed the facility, arguing it will cause environmental damage to waterways, flora and fauna.
Critics of the plant have also pointed to Gotion Inc.’s parent company, Gotion High-Tech, who's based in China, as reason to shut the project down due its public alignment with the CCP.
But in April, the Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $175 million subsidy by one vote to support the construction of the three-million-square-foot facility that is projected to bring over 2,300 jobs to the area.
Last month, Gotion Inc. announced the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is tasked with reviewing foreign investments and potential national security risks, declined to review the plans for the facility and said it did not have jurisdiction.
Chuck Thelien, vice president of Gotion Inc., has repeatedly denounced claims that the plant will be used by the CCP for nefarious reasons.
“Despite what any current politician might say,” said Thelien during a virtual information session hosted by Green Charter Township back in April, "there is no communist plot within Gotion to make Big Rapids a center to spread communism.” Thelien could not be reached for comment on this story.
Green Charter Township Supervisor, Jim Chapman, an ardent supporter of the plant being built in his community, previously told WCMU there has been a lot of misinformation distributed on social media about the plant and has created so much division in the community that protesters have come to his home. Chapman declined to comment on this story.
“Ultimately, local entities are going to have a large say in what happens in Big Rapids,” said Moolenaar.