Former CIA Director Leon Panetta warns China may use Michigan EV plant for espionage

Former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told lawmakers that a proposed electric vehicle battery plant in Michigan could be used for Chinese espionage.

Panetta made the comments during a House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party hearing on Tuesday afternoon which focused on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) support for America’s adversaries. The former CIA director answered in the affirmative when Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., asked if China could use the plant, which is being developed by a subsidiary of Hefei, China-based firm Gotion High-Tech, for espionage.

“I don’t think there’s any question that they’re going to take advantage of that situation,” Panetta remarked. “And I think we have to be very vigilant about what the hell is going on. That’s just the way they operate. They’ll establish a manufacturing unit, they’ll establish whatever they can, and then they will use that for their own intelligence purposes. They will use that for their own economic purposes.”

“They’ll use it to be able to gain the kind of advantages that are counter, frankly, to the interests of the United States,” he continued. “I think it is very important in those situations to make sure that the United States, and that our intelligence capabilities, are being used to make sure that we know what they are doing that could hurt the United States.”

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In addition to Panetta, former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo similarly testified during the hearing that the Gotion facility in Michigan presented national security risks and shouldn’t be built.

“I think it is worse than the fact that they will engage in espionage. I think that’s just top of the list,” Pompeo told the panel. “They will use this in ways that will leverage Chinese advantage. These plants are deeply dangerous to our national security and ought not be built.”

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In October 2022, Gotion and Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the company agreed to invest $2.4 billion in two 550,000-square-foot production plants and other supporting facilities spanning 260 acres in Mecosta County, Michigan. Months later, a top Michigan Senate panel controlled by Democrats voted 10-9 to award $175 million in taxpayer funding for the project.

As part of the deal, Gotion purchased hundreds of acres of land, including portions zoned for industrial, residential and agricultural use, in August. In addition, according to Moolenaar, the company is expected to import at least 20 Chinese nationals to work at the plant.

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta is pictured during a House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Then, in September, Gotion announced a second plant set for Illinois and slated to cost $2 billion. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said Gotion’s total incentive package funded by state taxpayers is valued at $536 million.

However, the projects have faced significant pushback from locals, former State Department officials and Republicans who say Gotion High-Tech operating in the U.S. poses a national security risk. 

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Gotion High-Tech’s corporate bylaws say the company is required to “carry out Party activities in accordance with the Constitution of the Communist Party of China.” Further, the company’s 2022 ESG report states Gotion High-Tech “carried out thematic education activities such as the study of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, red theme education, and love for students.” 

Images from a video published on Gotion high-Tech's website. The video shows the company hosted various Chinese Communist Party allegiance events for employees.

Images from a video published on Gotion high-Tech’s website. The video shows the company hosted various Chinese Communist Party allegiance events for employees. (Gotion High-Tech)

And in April, a firm representing Gotion High-Tech subsidiary Gotion Inc. submitted a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing with the Department of Justice, saying it would perform real estate acquisitions, file applications for land rezoning and attend public rezoning hearings on behalf of Gotion.

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“President Obama’s Defense Secretary and President Trump’s Secretary of State just testified under oath that Gotion and its plans in Michigan are a national security risk,” Moolenaar said in a statement. “They know how the Chinese Communist Party operates and how it uses resources in America to hurt our country.”

“They also said that it undermines our national security for states and communities to give tax subsidies to those companies. State and local economic development officials in Michigan need to listen to these experts and end the Gotion project,” the Michigan Republican added.

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