China developing ‘snipers that can see twice as far as humans’, experts claim

China is working on creating a league of super-soldiers with enhanced eyesight and strength, US experts believe.

Last week John Ratcliffe, Donald Trump's director of national intelligence, claimed the Chinese government is conducting biological testing on its own soldiers in order to dominate the planet "economically, militarily and technologically".

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Mr Ratcliffe said China has been using the gene-editing tool CRISPR to modify human embryos to breed military personnel capable of fighting harder, longer, and more efficiently.

The allegation was met with shock and widespread disbelief, but now more intelligence experts have corroborated that it's more than possible – and the ramifications could be severe.

NBC'S National Security Correspondent Ken Dilanian said it's "not something China is broadcasting publicly" in an interview on Monday.

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"I was initially sceptical of this but I started poking around and found that some military experts in the think tank world have written about this," he said.

"They've found public comments by Chinese scientists and Chinese generals who talk about their interest in applying biotechnology to the battlefield and specifically using the CRISPR gene-editing technique to manipulate human DNA in a way that can enhance performance.

"So imagine a sniper who can see twice as far as a normal human being or a team of commandos that can get by on just three hours sleep and have superhuman strength."

  • China creating army of 'genetically engineered super soldiers' says US intelligence boss

However this frightening possibility is unlikely to come to fruition any time soon, Mr Dilanian added.

"I think we're a long way off from that, but just the idea that China is studying these things is pretty troubling because in the West we consider that to be unethical.

"The CRISPR gene-editing technique is used to work on curing genetic disorders and improving plants for food, but not to improve human performance because humankind doesn't really understand the implications of tampering with genes in the short term or long term.

"Ratcliffe was citing this intelligence to make the point that in his view, China will stop at nothing to become the dominant military power."

Mr Dilanian added that the US relies on its intelligence community for information on such Chinese technological advancements as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, but that a recent report found its spies were "not doing a great job".

However with Trump out of the White House come January, that could all be about to change.

"Part of what Ratcliffe said last week is he wants to increase the budget towards spying on China, and the Biden administration is not too far away from this," he explained.

"They also agree that China is a national security threat and they want to devote more resources to dealing with that, including in the intelligence world, in spying."

There has been wide widespread debate about the ethics of using tools like CRISPR to improve the human genome.

Chinese biologist He Jiankui sparked controversy when he modified the genes of twin embryos used for IVF, resulting in the birth of two girls that he claimed would have a natural immunity to HIV.

He was sentenced to three years in jail and fined Yuan3 million (£345,000) for "illegal medical practices".

Two American defence specialists specialising in the study of Chinese military research wrote in a paper last year that while using CRISPR to enhance battlefield performance was only a hypothetical possibility today, "there are indications that Chinese military researchers are starting to explore its potential".

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