FBI urges Olympic athletes to leave their personal cell phones at home and take burner phones to Beijing

The FBI has warned Olympic athletes not to bring their personal phones but to get burner phones instead before heading to Beijing for the Winter Games.

The agency cited possible “malicious cyber activities” as the reason behind their warning.

“The FBI urges all athletes to keep their personal cell phones at home and use a temporary phone while at the games. The National Olympic Committees in some Western countries are also advising their athletes to leave personal devices at home or use temporary phones due to cybersecurity concerns at the Games,” the agency said.

The agency said they aren’t aware of “any specific cyber threat against the Olympics” but they added that it’s vital that athletes remain “vigilant” and that they “maintain best practices in their network and digital environments”.

National security officials have grown increasingly concerned about espionage and intellectual property theft by China, with intelligence officials warning that the Chinese government has created a new kind of surveillance state, with cameras and facial recognition software covering the city landscape.

Counterintelligence officials have issued warnings for a long time that some who travel to China, such as state and local officials, business leaders, and academics, may have their devices hacked.

The FBI provides briefings to Americans that the agency sees as at risk of being spied on by China. According to agency Director Christopher Wray, the FBI has more than 2,000 ongoing counterintelligence investigations into suspected attempts by China to get ahold of US technology information.

“When we tally up what we see in our investigations, there is just no country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, our innovation, and our economic security than China,” Mr Wray said on Monday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library west of Los Angeles, California.

American athletes will take part in the games, but the Biden administration will not be sending any government officials to represent the US as part of a diplomatic boycott.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last year that the administration intends to send a “clear message” that there cannot be “business as usual” because of China’s human rights violations, specifically concerning the internment and abuses of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province.

An unofficial tribunal based in the UK determined late last year that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs constitutes genocide, citing the use of birth control and sterilisation as their top reasons for the conclusion.

Sir Geoffrey Nice, the chair of the tribunal hearings, said the panel is convinced that China conducted “a deliberate, systematic and concerted policy” to achieve the “long-term reduction of Uyghur and other ethnic minority populations”. He added that the tribunal panel believes that top government officials, including President Xi Jinping, bear the “primary responsibility” for the abuses against Muslims in Xinjiang.

A spokesman for the Chinese government told the BBC in December that it was “pseudo tribunal” and a “political tool used by a few anti-China elements to deceive and mislead the public”.

Sir Geoffrey Nice said that “no evidence of mass killings” have been found but that the efforts to halt births constituted genocidal intent. The panel also said that they found evidence of crimes against humanity, torture, and sexual violence against the Uyghurs, according to the BBC.

The UK, Canada, Australia, Lithuania, Kosovo, and Denmark are also part of the diplomatic boycott. Japan has also announced that the government won’t send any officials to the games, but the country hasn’t officially announced a diplomatic boycott.