CBS News on Friday published details of an upcoming 60 Minutes segment on Chinese biotech firms reportedly attempting to harvest DNA from Americans using coronavirus tests.
According to U.S. intelligence officials, a Chinese offer to build testing facilities in the United States in the early days of the pandemic was turned down based on their warnings about the security risks.
The focus of the CBS story is the BGI Group (earlier known as the Beijing Genomics Institute), a Chinese biotech firm that offered to set up coronavirus testing laboratories in Washington, New York, California, and at least three other states. The company made some smaller-scale offers to assist with coronavirus testing.
BGI produced millions of coronavirus test kits for sale around the world and was paid millions to build test labs in numerous countries, including key U.S. allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. government was suspicious of the big push for Chinese testing technology, warning as far back as the spring of 2020 that Chinese companies could be seeking to harvest sensitive data from foreign customers desperate to increase their coronavirus testing capacity.
One U.S. official told Bloomberg News in May 2020 that BGI was the “Huawei of genomics,” referring to the Chinese telecom giant that has been blocked from some Western networks due to concerns about Chinese intelligence using the company’s technology to conduct surveillance and espionage. As with Huawei, BGI insists it is not owned or controlled by the Chinese government and promises its customers their personal data will be secured.