Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Commerce (Commerce) announced the creation of a “Disruptive Technology Strike Force.” The strike force will be co-led by DOJ’s National Security Division and Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, with support from 14 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in 12 major metropolitan areas across the country, and it will coordinate with officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations component. The strike force’s goal is to “…protect U.S. national security by preventing …sensitive technologies from being used for malign purposes” by “nation-state adversaries” such as China, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. The “sensitive technologies” at issue include supercomputing and “exascale” computing, quantum computing, biosciences, and, of course, artificial intelligence.

Noting that these technologies have important, and, by implication, legitimate commercial applications, DOJ stressed that they can also be used by our adversaries for “disruptive” purposes that can threaten our national security, including, for example, by making the design and testing of weapons that can be used against us more accurate and breaking algorithms designed to prevent U.S. classified information and sensitive communications from falling into the wrong hands. The strike force’s work will include investigating criminal violations of export laws, and enhancing partnerships with the U.S. intelligence community, the private sector, and our allies and friends around the world.

This development reflects the Administration’s continuing focus on using export control policy and enforcement to advance its national security priorities—of which economic security has become a key subset. The Administration has used the Foreign Direct Product Rule and coordinated its use, particularly regarding advanced semiconductor technology and related tooling, among its allies and partners outside of the traditional multilateral frameworks.  This is yet another example of how the Administration has scaled-up its use of export controls to generate desired outcomes in the areas of technology security and economic competitiveness – both national security priorities – vis-à-vis, in particular, China. The creation of the Disruptive Technologies Strike Force is the latest step by the Administration toward institutionalizing a “whole of government” approach to its novel use of export control policy and enforcement to counter this geopolitical rival.