When the secretive national security adviser of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, visited the White House in June, his American counterpart, Jake Sullivan, raised a delicate issue: G42, an artificial intelligence firm controlled by the sheikh that American officials believe is hiding the extent of its work with China.
In public, the company has announced its staggering growth with a steady cadence of news releases. They have included agreements with European pharmaceutical giants like AstraZeneca and a $100 million deal with a Silicon Valley firm to build what the companies boast will be the “world’s largest supercomputer.” Last month, G42 announced a partnership with OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT.
But in classified American intelligence channels, there have been more concerning reports about the company. The C.I.A. and other American spy agencies have issued warnings about G42’s work with large Chinese companies that U.S. officials consider security threats, including Huawei, the telecommunications giant that is under U.S. sanctions.
U.S. officials fear G42 could be a conduit by which advanced American technology is siphoned to Chinese companies or the government. The intelligence reports have also warned that G42’s dealings with Chinese firms could be a pipeline to get the genetic data of millions of Americans and others into the hands of the Chinese government, according to two officials familiar with the reports.
The C.I.A. even produced a classified profile of Peng Xiao, the chief executive of G42 who was educated in the United States and renounced his American citizenship for an Emirati one, U.S. officials say. The conclusions of the C.I.A. document about Mr. Xiao are unclear.
During the White House meeting in June with Sheikh Tahnoon and in other discussions of the past year, the Biden administration raised concerns about the company’s leadership and pushed for G42 to sever ties with Chinese companies and any agencies, according to a dozen people familiar with the discussions. The Americans have even pointed to the prospect of sanctions against the Emirati firm. The Biden administration’s concerns about G42 and its pressure campaign with the Emirates are being reported here for the first time.
On sensitive emerging technologies, the Emirates must choose between the United States and China, American officials have told their Emirati counterparts.
For years, the United States has been trying to limit China’s influence in the Middle East, and American officials believe Chinese efforts to build military bases and sell weapons in the region are urgent national security concerns. Today, however, there is a new frontier in this effort: blunting China’s ambitions to gain supremacy in the world’s cutting-edge technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data, quantum computing, cloud computing, surveillance infrastructure and genomic research.