In recent years, the FBI has become more concerned about China penetrating U.S. companies, universities and research institutes, seeking to gain access to dual-use technologies to boost China's computer systems and military programs.
"We know that several countries have established full-fledged procurement networks, networks that work through front companies, joint ventures, trade delegations and other mechanisms to methodically target our government, our private industries and our universities as sources for this material," Wainstein said.
Pike said nations such as Russia and China devote intelligence resources to stealing U.S. technology.
"They're over here to try to steal American military technology, our civil technology, dual-use technology," Pike said. "You've got Russian and Chinese spies that have got nothing better to do than try to steal everything that isn't nailed down at both ends and they're trying to pry up the stuff that is nailed down at both ends."
A 2006 Pentagon assessment found a 43 percent increase in the number of suspicious foreign contacts with defense firms and found that 108 countries were actively seeking to obtain sensitive technologies from the United States. According to the report, in 1997 only 37 countries were involved in attempting to collect sensitive data.
To counter this spike, the FBI has established Field Intelligence Groups in each FBI field office and set up partnerships with the nation's top research universities to look for warning signs of sensitive technologies being stolen.
"We know that foreign states and terrorist organizations are actively seeking the knowledge and technology required to develop weapons of mass destruction," said Tim Bereznay, the FBI's assistant director for counterintelligence. "Effective export controls remain critical in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, their delivery systems and related technology."
In March, military contracting firm ITT agreed to pay $100 million to settle charges it allegedly transferred night vision technology to China. The government said the company sent classified information to companies and firms in China, Singapore, the United Kingdom and other countries, tasking them with research and development duties for the night vision technology it was developing.
A defense security service report from June 2006 warned cases like ITT's would become more frequent.
"DSS foresees a continuing of increased suspicious contact reports from cleared defense contractors," the report said. "The globalization of defense business will increase the threat from strategic competitors who will use legitimate business activities as a venue to illegally transfer U.S. technology."
A recent report of the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission highlighted recent advances China has made, noting in a recent report, "If China launches 10 of its new nuclear-powered Shang-class submarines by the end of 2008 … this would reflect a new emphasis on blue water naval capabilities on the part of Chinese strategists. In fact, so substantial have been Chinese advancements in naval modernization that they are leading some to begin to consider China as a partner, along with the U.S. Navy, in protecting freedom of navigation and maritime security on the high seas."